Summary: The saga concludes. Will John survive? What will happen to Rix and Mary-Lou?
Categories: Ste Therese's House Characters: Cecil Maynard, David Russell, Geoff Maynard, Jackie Bettany, Jo (Bettany) Maynard, Mary-Lou Trelawney, Mike Maynard, OC, Rix Bettany
School Period: None
School Name: Chalet School
Genre: Angst, Domestic, Drama, Family, Romance, Slash
Series: A Bettany Saga
Chapters: 20 Completed: No
Word count: 30184 Read: 13064
Published: 11 Nov 2014 Updated: 21 Apr 2018
Sequel to They that Go Down to the Sea in Ships.
1. Chapter 1 by Mia
2. Chapter 2 by Mia
3. Chapter 3 by Mia
4. Chapter 4 by Mia
5. Chapter 5 by Mia
6. Chapter 6 by Mia
7. Chapter 7 by Mia
8. Chapter 8 by Mia
9. Chapter 9 by Mia
10. Chapter 10 by Mia
11. Chapter 11 by Mia
12. Chapter 12 by Mia
13. Chapter 13 by Mia
14. Chapter 14 by Mia
15. Chapter 15 by Mia
16. Chapter 16 by Mia
17. Chapter 17 by Mia
18. Chapter 18 by Mia
19. Chapter 19 by Mia
20. Chapter 20 by Mia
Miss Annersley surveyed Cecil as she sat drinking coffee in the comfortable chair opposite. She herself was still quite shaken; but Cecil appeared calm. Of course, Miss Annersley reflected, she had barely known her cousin John. The Maynards, after a short but sharp period of worry, had received confirmation from the Ministry of Defence that Mike Maynard had survived and was uninjured. Details were sketchy, and classified, but John’s photograph had been printed in several newspapers. Miss Annersley sighed, she had fond memories of the little boy from the Die Blumen nursery and later, of her visits to the Quadrant.
“Daphne will return next week,” she said, in her golden tones. “I’m sure I don’t need to ask you to look after her at this difficult time.”
“No, Auntie Hilda,” Cecil said very properly.
“As you know, Laura Gardiner has left us this term, to return to her people in Canada.” Miss Annersley continued, placing her own empty coffee cup down. “She was a very good Head Girl, and will be difficult to replace.”
“Yes, Auntie Hilda,” Cecil responded, but then her curiosity got the better of her and she leaned forward. “Why is she going so early, exactly? I mean, it seems so mysterious!”
“There’s no mystery;” Miss Annersley wondered, not for the first time, why Cecil Maynard had to dramatise everything. “Quite simply, Laura’s mother has recovered very well from her operation and they wish to return home. Laura has no examinations to take, unlike you, so there is no real need for her to stay.”
Cecil nodded, self-important to be the subject of adult confidences. She wondered how she was to take on the Head Girl’s duties and still make time to fuss over Daphne; even the tragedy – which she did fully appreciate, having seen her parents’ distress and recalling those worrying few hours when they thought Mike was drowned - didn’t make her like her effervescent cousin any more than she had.
“So,” Miss Annersley continued, “I hope you’ll be able to fully support Daphne. We’ve decided to make her our Head Girl for the remainder of her year. I do so hope the challenge will take her mind off such a sad loss. Oh, there’s Miss Dene ringing for me. Do run back to class, dear, and I’ll speak to you soon.”
Cecil left, only just stopping herself from slamming the study door behind her. She made no effort to return to her History class, instead running to the dormitory where she burst into angry tears. Daphne as Head Girl!
“Daddy, there’s a telegram,” James, alone for once as his brothers were out with Mary-Lou, ran into the surgery at Howells. Normally they were discouraged from the rooms their father used; now things were different.
Rix was distracted; sorting papers in his shirtsleeves. “Hello, James, what did you say?”
“There’s a telegram. Daddy. Daddy - why are we moving?”
“To go and live with Granny and Grandpa.” Rix said, disregarding the telegram. It would only confirm what they now knew. Both Daniel Lyndhurst and Jem Russell’s enquiries of well-positioned friends over the last week had extinguished all hope. He put it on his desk and turned his full attention to his eldest son. “We’re going to live at the Quadrant and help with the farm. Don’t you think it’ll be fun?”
“Because Uncle Maurice is going to live in Australia now; and it’s time I went back anyway. The Quadrant will be mine eventually, and one day it will be yours. We should learn from Grandpa how to run it, shouldn’t we?”
James nodded; it made sense. “Will we ever come back here?”
“For holidays, maybe.”
“I like it at the Quadrant, Daddy.”
“I know, so do I.” Rix picked up the hateful telegram, and then put it down again with a sigh. He would open it later.
There was nothing; and then suddenly everything was pain. Then again; nothing.
The next time; was pain, and people. John Bettany blinked; the light made his eyes water and they hurt. Everything hurt.
He closed his eyes and the return to unconsciousness was swift and welcome.
“Maynard?” Sub-Lieutenant Dean poked his tousled head around the door of the Chapel. Mike Maynard sat at the very front, lost in his own thoughts. There was nobody else present. The Sub-Lieutenant had no hesitation, however, and strode to where the younger man was sitting. Mike looked up, his expression showing that he was expecting bad news. His rosary was clutched firmly in his fingers.
“He’s awake, Mike,” Robbie Dean said, as kindly as he could. “They just radioed to say so. Why don’t you come with me?”
“Will he be all right? Have you told my family?”
“I know the next of kin was told – a Dr Bettany? I asked Lt McLaughlin. He said they sent the usual communications. They also said in Valletta that he was responding well to treatment and stable.”
“Good,” Mike felt a slight lessening of the pressure he had felt. The last two weeks had been awful.
HMS Camaraderie had been lost. They had been lucky; relatively. All of the company had made it across with minor injuries, if any at all. McLaughlin had sent a helicopter to rescue both John and Keeler the instant the winds had died down enough to make it practicable. The pilots had made it to the stricken ship, by that time only barely afloat, and found John on the deck, gravely injured and losing blood; unconscious. Keeler was missing. He was still missing, now presumed dead.
The ship’s surgeons had done as much as they could; then John had been flown away at full speed to the nearest base, Valletta, to the military hospital there. By all accounts – and Mike had pestered them for daily detail - it had been touch and go whether he would even survive. The news today was better. Mike smiled for the first time in weeks.
Replacement vessels had been sent to cover the Beira Patrol once the Admiralty could manage, and HMS Commitment, very overloaded with personnel but with nobody minding very much about it given the alternative, was on her way home.
The pain seemed like nothing on earth. He faded in and out of consciousness, aware of people around him, but unable to respond to them. The room seemed full of people. The morphine made his dreams wild and frightening.
So when he finally woke properly, it was disconcerting to find himself all alone, in a high white bed. A machine bleeped next to him and his bed seemed full of wires and tubes. Other than that; it was so silent.
His head ached as he tried to remember where he was; what had happened. He could not.
A nurse came in, exclaiming to see him awake.
“Where am I?” he asked; hesitant. His voice was croaky, underused.
“You’re in the military hospital in Valletta,” she said, calmly, “The doctor is coming. Please do not worry.”
“Jo! Don’t stand outside in the cold, for heaven’s sake!” Matron opened the French window, making those mistresses in the resultant draught shiver violently. The January air was cold. Joey Maynard quickly climbed through, slammed the door closed behind her and hastily divested herself of her outer garments.
“I’ve got wonderful news,” she exclaimed, taking the cup of coffee she was offered with a grateful nod. “I’ve just got off the phone with Mollie. John’s safe – badly injured, I understand – but he’s going to recover. Isn’t it wonderful, Hilda? A real miracle.”
“That is wonderful news, my dear!” Miss Annersley embraced her. “Rosalie, do fetch Daphne, won’t you? And Cecil too, and Phil.”
“Of course!” Rosalie dashed for the door of the study.
“How did you hear?” Matey asked.
“Mike wrote to us – I have his letter. Mollie and Dick were so thrilled, Hilda. I believe they’d quite given up hope. I’ve suggested he come to us – he’s in Malta at the moment, it was the nearest place. He could go to the San, of course, then to us when he’s recovered, just until he’s well enough to travel back to the Quadrant. I expect Mollie and Dick will fly out.”
“What are the injuries?” Matron asked.
“Mike didn’t know the full details; but we’ll find out shortly I expect. He’s alive, that’s the main thing.”
“I knew he’d be OK,” David grinned from his desk in the San. “Why didn’t you just open that telegram?”
“I know…” Rix just shook his head, he’d felt nothing but relief since his mother’s tearful telephone call that morning. “I’m an idiot. Mary-Lou already pointed it out. Still, we’re all so relieved.”
“Did you tell Lyndhurst?” David asked, tapping his pen against his papers.
“No – I’ll tell him when I next write. I think he’s in London these days.”
“I’ll phone him later – I’ll tell him.” David remembered the incident in the lane, how Daniel had asked after John, and wondered. He looked up at his cousin. “Actually, I want him to see the Olsen girl.”
“How is she?” Rix frowned.
“Much better – out of danger, in fact. So it’s good news all round.” David shuffled papers, distractedly. “Do you want to see her? She’s in Ward Three. Are you doing any work today?”
“Not unless you’ve anything urgent for me. I’m finishing up at Howells.”
“Oh yes, hard luck.” David was sympathetic.
“It’ll be fine. I had to go home sometime.” Rix shrugged.
“When is John coming home?”
“When he’s fit enough to travel. I don’t know when that will be, but hopefully soon. Uncle Jack suggested he go to the Gornetz Platz. It’s probably a good idea – the Quadrant won’t exactly be peaceful when we all pitch up there.”
“Switzerland seems sensible. If it’s better that he come here; just let me know.”
“Thanks, Davy.” Rix shoved his hands into his pockets. “I suppose I’d better be going.”
“Didn’t you want to see Jana? Just give me two seconds to finish this, and I’ll come with you.”
“Lieutenant Commander. If you are feeling up to it; we’d like to ask you a few questions,” the officer – John couldn’t identify his rank immediately – looked like he meant business. John nodded, immediately wishing he hadn’t when it made his head hurt.
“We’re from the Regulating Branch,” the other offered, unnecessarily. John knew that from their behaviour. “We just thought it would make sense to clear up this business before you go back to Portsmouth.”
“They told me I’m not going anywhere for weeks,” John sighed.
“Better sooner than later. We still have an officer missing and anything you could tell us would be useful.”
“I don’t remember very much. I hit my head.”
“We’ll see how we go. We’ve got most of the account from your first officer. You left your post and went aboard the HMS Camaraderie. Why did you do that?”
“One of the Midships from the Camaraderie told me there were depth charges still set. I couldn’t take that chance. I wanted to check for myself.”
“Understandable, if against procedure. What happened then?”
“I-I went down, below deck. I assessed the situation with the charges; it was still rocky but I could see it was safe for the time being. I sent the men there across to the Commitment. I remember that most distinctly. One of them was my cousin, you see.” They nodded; they knew. John continued.
“I went to the Bridge. There was water coming in – I remember splashing through it. It was dark. That’s it – I don’t remember anything else.”
“Do you remember seeing Commander Keeler?”
John frowned at the name, but the pain in his head was unbearable. “No. I’m sorry. I don’t remember anything between going down the passages through the water and then waking up here. It hurts…”
“We’ll leave it there. Well done, Lieutenant Commander. You were quite the hero by all accounts. I’d be surprised if you don’t get something for this little effort.”
“I’m being invalided out.” John would have turned away, if his ribs had been able to take it. “So it’s pointless. Besides, anyone would have done the same.”
“Well,” the two men looked at each other. “Thank you – we’ll be in touch if we need anything else.”
“Maynard – come with me. I’m going to sort out the Captain’s personal effects for him. You can help.” Lt McLaughlin said, coming across Mike at a loose end.
“Why?” Mike was frightened. “He is all right, isn’t he? Nothing’s changed, I mean?”
“Not so I’ve heard.” Lieutenant McLaughlin ignored the lack of formality. He realised the younger man was overwrought and exhausted. “He will need his belongings though, hopefully sooner rather than later. Come on then.”
“Yes, sir.” Mike followed him into John’s cabin. It was tidy, although the bedcovers were still disturbed from the night of the storm. Nobody had been in to it since.
“Is it everything? Isn’t he coming back, sir?”
“Now don’t start worrying again – I’m sure he will. No, certainly not everything, but I imagine he’ll want some of his things. His razor, books, his personal papers, that kind of thing. If you could pack those up please. I’ll come back later this afternoon to go through the ship’s papers. Good afternoon, Midshipman Maynard.”
“Good afternoon, sir.” Mike saluted, hastily, as McLaughlin departed to return to the Bridge. Mike turned his attention to the task in hand.
John’s desk was very tidy. Mike ignored the majority of the papers, McLaughlin and Sub-Lt Dean would deal with those. John had two books from the ship’s library - they could be returned - and a strange one written by a psychologist. Mike opened it but couldn’t understand a word. A key fell out of it with a clunk on the desktop.
The desk drawer had been locked. Mike tried the key and it clicked open. He pulled it open and saw letters. They were crammed in haphazardly, Mike saw. Some of the letters weren’t even in their matching envelopes.
Mike would never read anyone’s private letters, but he knew how important the part that correspondence from home played in naval life. Equally he was not naïve enough to believe that the captain’s cabin would be left unused for long. He would just have to sort them into some kind of order and hope that John wouldn’t mind.
Dumping them all out on the desk, he set to work.
Captain Walsh, who had known John professionally for many years, hesitated outside the door. It was open, and John was lying still on the bed. If he wasn’t sleeping then he was certainly dozing or sedated. The doctors had explained about the memory loss but too much remained a mystery. What had happened to Keeler? Why had Bettany gone after him?
Walsh sighed. The outcome was the best possible, even with the loss of Keeler; but there needed to be a full debrief, questions asked and lessons learned.
John lay as still as possible, trying to will the pain away. His head, his back, his ribs, his broken wrist were all too much despite the medication. He was worried about the operations the surgeon had told him he would have to have. He had never had a day’s illness in his adult life.
He heard the sound of footsteps and opened his eyes, warily.
“My dear boy,” Captain Walsh came forward and took a seat next to the bed. “How are you feeling?”
“I’ve been better. You didn’t come out specially, sir?”
“Of course I did, Bettany. We lost the Camaraderie and one of my best officers is injured. They told me that you know about Lewis Keeler.”
John flinched. “Yes, sir.”
“I know you were friends. I’m sorry.”
“I don’t remember. I’ve already told people. I just remember the water coming in. I don’t even think I saw him.”
“Take it easy, Lt Commander,” Walsh was alarmed. In all the years he had known John Bettany, he had never seen him get angry. “We won’t discuss this now.”
“What if I never remember?”
Walsh looked at him directly. “It’s a tragedy that Keeler is dead, but it would have been so much worse if you hadn’t acted as you had. The whole company might have been lost.”
John looked away, feeling woozy with the drugs. He wished Walsh would stop talking, or better still, leave. Even though nobody had mentioned it yet he knew he was finished in the Navy. Once that would have been unbearable, but now he didn’t know how he felt.
He couldn’t think about Lewis dying. It hurt more than anything.
Daphne secretly found the Head Girl thing a bit of a bore; but she was so thrilled about John being safe that she was happy to go along with all the fuss. The only thing she did resent was the idea of giving up her little bedroom at Freudesheim, leaving the aunt and uncle whose company she enjoyed in the evening, and having to move to the school.
She still intended to go to art school and got on very well with Miss Yolland, however she had seen the sense of finishing her year at the Chalet School. Also, she had been lonely as the youngest child; educated at home and delicate, and it was good to have friends of her own age.
Cecil was a problem. Daphne mused on this instead of finishing her English essay and stared out of the Library window. It was partly her own fault; she had baited Cecil in the past over rules she found silly and about Cecil’s ridiculous attitudes, but now it had gone too far. Cecil was pale, she had alienated most of her friends and her work was beginning to suffer. Daphne’s overtures had been ignored; but she resolved to try again. She glanced across the room to the table – the furthest away, of course! - where Cecil was sitting making heavy weather over some maths.
Sighing, she pushed her essay, finished at last, and copy of A Tale of Two Cities away, and opened her writing case. She wanted to write to John, of course, though Rix had said in his last letter that John might not be well enough to read. She also owed Bride and her mother letters and they would be pleased to know about being Head Girl.
Cecil watched her, her prep disregarded, plotting her revenge.
It was months before John was well enough to be flown back to England. He’d had two operations on his spine and would require another, but he would be able to walk in time and would hopefully make a full recovery in time. How much time would be another matter.
Letters had arrived, in their dozens, but it hurt his head to read, so he had been sparse in his own correspondence. Telegrams were easier, short and to the point. He had one of the administrators write to his parents, Rix, and Daphne in Switzerland saying that he was fine and looking forward to coming home and to pass on the news to the family. He wrote a short letter to Daniel himself, struggling through the pain and knowing he wasn’t expressing himself well. He posted it to the Eaton Square flat.
Rix immediately wrote back saying he would come out but John told the doctors no. He didn’t want anyone to see him in such bad shape.
He fretted over whether they would discharge him medically. His back was painful and there was no guarantee that the third operation would make him as fit as he had been before. Sometimes at dark moments he wished he’d left the remaining sailors on the Camaraderie to their fate – even Mike and Lewis. He had to stop thinking there. Lewis was gone forever.
It was very early morning when the plane touched down. John would go by ambulance to RNH Haslar, in Hampshire, where his parents would meet him, by special arrangements. He hated the wheelchair and the bright morning sun hurt his eyes. His mood didn’t improve when a man ran up to the fence and took photographs of him.
“What the hell is that?” he said, to Captain Walsh, forgetting to whom he was speaking. Walsh swore and ordered the attending naval nurse to push John’s chair into the hospital.
“The press.” He said, shortly, once they were inside the hospital itself. “We’ll have to call a press conference at some point. You’re quite the hero, you know.”
“Rot, sir. I didn’t do anything.” John scowled. Captain Walsh, not for the first time since the sinking of the Camaraderie, wondered if John’s uncharacteristic irritability was a result of his head injury. He wisely left the question of the press conference until later. No doubt now they were back in England, John would find out about the enormous amount of public interest for himself.
They went into the hall and then his father was there, and his mother, who threw her arms around him and squeezed as though she would never let him go.
“Jackie, mavourneen,” she said, regardless of the fact that his senior officers were present, and burst into tears.
“I’m fine, Mother, absolutely fine. It looks worse than it is. Please don’t cry.” John held her tightly, almost overcome himself.
“Madam, if you would like to come with me, I have arranged a private room,” Commander Lawton led the elder Bettanys away, leaving Captain Walsh to follow with John’s chair.
Once reunited, Lawton and Walsh left the Bettanys alone for several precious moments.
“Bad business about Keeler, sir,” Lawton said, cautiously.
“Yes,” Walsh paced the corridor. “You don’t think…”
“Nothing – I’m being fanciful. Bettany did well. I’m putting him up for a decoration.”
“Good – but will he be discharged, sir?”
“Who can tell,” Walsh replied, but his dark expression showed he feared it was so. “Come on, Lawton. I hate to break up the happy reunion, but the sooner he can be debriefed and we sort out this blasted press conference the better for everyone.”
“John, hello!” Rix was shocked at how frail his brother looked. He had been lying on his pillows, staring miserably out of the large window at the falling rain. The expression on his face had been uncharacteristically melancholy; Rix was uncomfortably reminded of the summer past. “It’s fantastic to see you – I can’t tell you how much.”
“Dad said I gave you all a scare,” John smiled and looked much better, “I was hoping you’d come. How is everyone? How are the kids? Have you heard from Mike?”
“Yes – everyone’s fine. The kids have sent you letters,” Rix placed them on the table over John’s bed. “Mike sent us a parcel at the Quadrant of all your things from the ship, letters and books and things. I’ve just left it on your bed for now. So what have you done to yourself?”
“Cracked my spine, busted a couple of ribs. Bashed my head. Oh, and this,” John lifted up his left wrist, which was in plaster. “Lucky I’m not the surgeon of the family, isn’t it?”
“Can I read your notes?”
“Like I could stop you.” John rolled his eyes, but smiled. “I think I’m finished in the Navy though,” he said, quietly.
“I’m sorry,” Rix quickly flicked through the notes, rather alarmed by the extent of John’s injuries, especially the memory loss; and put the notes back on the end of the bed. They had never been overly demonstrative with each other but now he put his hand over his brother’s uninjured one. “We thought you were drowned, Jackie. It was just – awful. So don’t expect me to be upset you’re not going back out there.”
John seemed to mentally shake himself. “I can help you out at the Quadrant.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” Rix said, wryly. “No, there must be things you can do still – they’ll give you a desk job, surely?”
“I don’t know. Do you think you could get me out of here? I mean, you could get Uncle Jem to pull a few strings, couldn’t you? And your friend, Con’s husband – he’s quite well-known isn’t he. They’d listen to him, wouldn’t they?”
“Don’t get excited – I’ll see what I can do. We might be able to get you to the San, seeing how you’re such a famous hero.”
John’s eyes darkened, “I’m really not.”
“I’ll get Rayner to visit you. He might even do your last op himself. You should rest now. I’ll be back tomorrow – I’m going to stay overnight.”
“Rix – wait. Why can’t I remember what happened?”
“Well – there could be several causes.” Rix sat back down. “It could be physical, or psychological. Didn’t they discuss this with you?”
“It’s not important anyway. What matters is that you’re safe and you’re going to recover – and Mike’s OK, and the others. There was only one casualty, wasn’t there? The captain of the other ship?”
“Yes.” John looked away.
“So think of all the people who would have died if it wasn’t for you, John. That’s just amazing. We’re so proud of you.”
“I want to sleep,” John said, abruptly.
Jana Olsen, in her dressing-gown and still looking poorly, played with the dolls’ house that Daniel Lyndhurst had requested and David, with some difficulty, had found. Daniel sat next to her, occasionally talking to the small girl, mostly watching her play. Sometimes he would scribble some notes on his writing pad. David and Francis Rayner watched through the glass pane in the doorway, with interest.
“She seems better after the op. Do you think her slow recovery is psychological?” Rayner asked.
“Maybe,” David shrugged. “I don’t know, but I think it’s worth a try.”
“You don’t think the mother...”
“I don’t think so. I tested for poisons too and that all came back clear. Besides, she certainly seems to be fond of the kid. Poor little mite.”
Rayner nodded, looking back through the door. Lyndhurst was deep in conversation with Jana, who seemed animated for once. The doctor was smiling too.
“Rix phoned me from Gosport. John wants to come here. Well, he wants to get out of there and this is the nearest option. Would you take him as a patient?”
“Don’t forget we’ve got the AGM too. It’s at the end of May - only weeks away. My father will be here, he and Mother are flying over and they want to see Jack. The Bettanys lived with us when we were kids, you know.”
“I see. Spinal trauma, wasn’t it?”
“Yes. Rix said he had memory loss. Still, it sounded pretty awful from what Aunt Jo wrote. Maybe he’s better not remembering…”
“I’d be happy to take the case. It’s my field, so it makes sense. Let me know what you need me to do.”
“Thanks. I’ll let Rix know. Hello, Jana! Did you like playing with the dolls?”
“Yes,” Jana slipped her little hand into David’s and look up at him adoringly. “Dr Daniel said I could have it in my room if you said yes.”
“Of course you can – I’ll bring it along myself. Why don’t we get you back to bed now and you can have a little sleep?”
“Were you talking about John Bettany?” Daniel asked Rayner, as David went off with Jana and the two of them went in search of tea in the staffroom.
“Yes, do you know him?”
“We’re friends, yes. How is he?”
“Not very happy in Haslar, from all accounts. Russell’s getting him here instead.”
“A few weeks, I should imagine, just to sort the paperwork I don’t envy Russell that task! I’m in Brighton next week anyway visiting my aunt so I thought I might go along and introduce myself. We’ve met before, but it was at Richard’s sister’s funeral. He won’t remember me.”
“I’m worried about his mental health. He was very active – it can be hard to adjust,” Daniel replied. “Would you let me know how he is?”
“Sure. Unless you want to come with me? I was going to take the family. You know my wife, don’t you? We can fit you in. We can leave you there while we visit my aunt.”
“Thank you,” Daniel visibly brightened.
John awoke, sweating, his heart pounding in his chest. He had been dreaming that water had been flooding the hospital. It took a while for his breathing – beyond painful, with his broken ribs – to slow. Lewis had been there; John tried to remember again but nothing would come, besides Lewis on the bridge, the gun on the table in front of him.
He would never tell anyone about the gun. He had been very careful during the various debriefings and the awful, formal press conference to mention how heroic Commander Keeler had been. Walsh had been pleased; it made the whole thing so much less of a disaster for the good name of the Royal Navy. John had used it as leverage – Walsh would organise an honourable discharge – and John couldn't think about how the rest of his life would be.
Joey looked up from her knitting as her third son came into the Saal. He had been given six weeks’ survivor’s leave and was now well into his third week. They had all given him a rapturous welcome and he had been congratulated by old friends from both School and San. Nevertheless, he had been preoccupied and at times even moody. Jo had discussed it anxiously with Jack.
“He’s been through a lot,” Jack had reassured his wife and quietly given his son sleeping tablets. Mike took them because it was better than lying awake at night, alone with his thoughts.
“Hello Mamma,” he said, using the baby name. Joey threw her knitting away at once, not even caring that quite half her stitches were lost.
“Mike, come and sit down – we’ll have tea and I know Anna baked this morning.”
“Thanks,” Mike stared out at the Jungfrau, visible through the drawing room window, as his mother fussed with the tea trolley. He wasn’t really hungry but he wanted to talk things through with someone and his mother was really the only person who would be able to help. He would just have to hope she would be satisfied with his rather vague explanations and not quiz him until everything was exposed.
He supposed he at least owed John Bettany that for saving his life.
They sat there, each clutching a cup of tea. Joey waited eagerly for Mike to speak, at the same time not wanting to frighten him by demanding too much. He had been so different lately! It was as though he had a terrible secret weighing on him.
“Have you ever found out that someone wasn’t who you thought they were?” he asked, rather cryptically; Jo thought. “I mean, someone you looked up to?”
“It’s a good job Auntie Hilda isn’t here to hear your grammar, my lad,” Joey said, lightly. “No, I don’t think I ever have. Of course, everyone has their flaws. They wouldn’t be human otherwise, would they?”
“I suppose.” Mike said, glumly. “It just changes things.”
“Nobody can be a plaster saint.” Joey added, gently. “Does it really change things?”
“I think so.”
“Nobody’s perfect, Mike.” Joey looked at him, hoping he would say more, but it wasn’t to be.
“John?” Daniel’s voice was low. He hated to wake John when he was sleeping but they only had a few precious moments while Rayner was away hunting down John’s doctors.
Still, it was some comfort to look at him. He sat down next to the bed, his eyes on John’s pale face. His eyes were closed. Daniel risked a hand on his arm, careful of the IV and other wires.
John awoke, frowning, but relaxed as he saw who it was. “Daniel,” he said, rubbing his eyes.
“It’s so good to see you,” Daniel said, quietly, snatching his hand away as Francis Rayner strode in.
“Hello, I’m Francis Rayner. We have met – I’m not sure if you remember me. David Russell asked me to take on your case when you come to Armishire.”
“That’s good – hello. I can’t wait to get out of this place.”
“A couple of weeks and you’ll be back in Devon.”
“Months, you mean. But you can do something, can’t you? Rix said you could.”
“I’ll try my best. It’s not as bad as you probably think. You’ve got a good chance of recovery. Try and stay positive – that’s very important.”
“It’s good of you to come all this way…” John looked directly at Daniel and, to his horror, felt himself becoming tearful. Not the reunion for which he had hoped.
“Ssh, it’s OK.” Daniel was reassuring. “It’s the shock of it all. You’re recovering well, though. You’ll be home soon.”
“I’ll get you some water.” Rayner left, discreetly. Lyndhurst was very good with distressed patients.
“I thought you were dead,” Daniel had hold of him and John had stopped crying. Daniel’s voice was very quiet and intense. “They wrote in the newspapers that you’d died. I did everything I could to find out – I didn’t believe it. Then it sank in that I’d never see you again. Then your cousin telephoned – I couldn’t believe that either. And now you’re here, safe.”
“I don’t remember what happened. I can’t.”
“Don’t try to force it. It’s not important right now. You hit your head – that can cause memory loss. The important thing is you’re going to be all right. Listen – there’s something I need to tell you.”
“I missed you, I’m so glad you’re here.” John said, fighting against the need for sleep. “Don’t go, will you? Stay for a while.”
“Of course I will. I missed you, too.” Daniel hesitated, then spoke almost shyly, “I love you.”
“I – “ John was prevented from replying as Rayner returned, with the water. He hoped he hadn’t heard anything. Daniel extricated himself and stood up.
“Maybe we should leave you to sleep.” Rayner automatically checked the IV.
“I’ll stay until you do sleep,” Daniel said, gently.
“He’s gone,” Rayner stated. “This is a high dose – I’ll look to start getting that down, I think. So, what do you think?”
“I think he’ll be fine. Did you really mean that about discharge in weeks?”
“Eight to ten weeks, I reckon. When do you go to America?”
“Next month.” Daniel checked John’s pulse, more of an excuse to touch him. He wished he’d been able to tell John about his trip. A lecture tour, six months in length, followed by treatment on his leg. It had been planned to coincide with John’s naval service and now although he had tried, he couldn’t unpick the arrangements.
“We can come back tomorrow. It’s a shame Con couldn’t come with us in the end.” Rayner said, leafing through John’s medical charts. “Though he isn’t exactly fit enough for crowds.”
“It must have been ghastly.” Daniel said, soberly.
“He seems in fairly good spirits, considering. Now, shall we go and eat somewhere? We can come back tomorrow morning.”
John always woke at four. He didn’t know why now. The first few days it had been the nightmares. Lewis Keeler reaching for him, screaming, as the water rushed in – had it happened like that? No – he remembered them being on deck – and trying to puzzle it out and remember hurt his head.
This time he had woken naturally. His back hurt – the drugs were wearing off. He was supposed to summon the nurse with the bell; but he held off. It was easier to think without the drugs clouding his thoughts.
Daniel loved him
What had happened on the ship?
Would he ever know?
“I stayed overnight. Rayner’s just gone to speak about the arrangements for moving you.” Daniel was there when John woke again. “He’s going to fix it for you to go to the San next week.”
“That’s so soon – will you come and see me there?”
“Of course I will.”
“When do you go to America?” John said, matter-of-factly.
Daniel had walked away, towards the window to open it. Now he turned back, frowning.
“How do you know about that?”
“Rix said so, when he came to see me. He said you were going to America to lecture.”
“Only for a few months. It’s not long. I tried to get out of it, but I can’t. I’m sorry.”
“Will you come back?” John despised himself for sounding so pathetic.
“Of course I’ll come back! I’m going this month – I’ll be back in November. That’s hardly any time at all.”
“What if they want you to stay for longer?”
“They won’t! Believe me. Anyway, I fly out on the tenth. Hopefully I can come and see you in Armiford a couple of times before I go, and…”
“There’s something I have to tell you.” John cut across him.
“What’s that?” Daniel smiled.
“It’s about Lewis. Lewis Keeler.”
“I told you, it will come back in time. Don’t try and force the memory.”
“No – you don’t know who he is…”
“What do you mean?” Daniel sat down and took John’s hand. “Don’t over-excite yourself. I thought he was the captain of HMS Camaraderie. Did you know him?”
“Was he the man who threatened you at Greenwich?” Daniel demanded; the memory of that day resurfacing.
“We were friends – we were friends for years. I was only a kid. I really loved him. He – well, sometimes it was good but most of the time it was only because I was there.”
Daniel removed his hand. “I’m sorry for your loss, then.” He spoke stiffly; obviously hurt.
“No – you don’t understand…”
“Then tell me.” Daniel said, frustrated. “Did something happen between you when you were away?”
John thought back to the beach; that night under the clear stars of Malta; the soft, hot sand and sound of the waves breaking around them; Lewis Keeler’s whispered words. The storm. The gun. Wading through the flooded, endless, pitch-black corridor. The water rushing in… He nearly had it. Lewis’s face… The gun, flashing silver against the fading light...
“Are you all right?” Even though Daniel was angry, he couldn’t ignore his years of training.
John blinked. The memory had slipped away, like sand through his fingers. His head pounded.
“I think you should get some rest,” Daniel was calm. “We don’t need to talk about this any more.”
“I want to explain, but my head hurts.”
“I’ll fetch the nurse. You don’t need to explain anything.”
“You also don’t need to apologise.” Daniel pressed the bell to summon the nursing staff. He was brisk, impersonal, doctor-like; the easy familiarity gone.
“I’ll see you before I go to America,” he said, as the nurse entered the room. “I’ll come to Armiford.”
“You don’t need to do that,” John said, trying not to sound as devastated as he felt. He couldn’t bear a sympathy visit with nothing to say to each other. “I know you’re busy. I’ll see you in November, I’m sure.”
Whatever Daniel wanted to say in response was interrupted by the nurse. He simply nodded once, and left.
A week later, the San loomed large; it looked forbidding. John remembered it from his childhood. He had never been inside, his uncle preferring the children to keep away from it and its shadow. He had been curious of course; they all had.
David was there, waiting on the drive, with another hated wheelchair. John looked at it, as the ambulance driver helped him out. “I can manage.”
“Policy I’m afraid,” David said mildly. “Good to see you too.”
“I’m sorry,” John was immediately contrite. He knew how much effort David had put in to get him to the San. “I’m just tired. It was a long drive.”
“I’ll show you to your room then,” David was secretly quite shocked; John looked worse than Rix had said. “Welcome to my little empire!”
“It’s nice,” John said, comparing it to the naval hospital. Fresh flowers in the reception and pleasant furnishings made a difference. “I thought you said you were making it into a children’s hospital.”
“Eventually… We’ve got a big children’s ward. I’ve put you in a private room though, right up at the top. I thought you’d appreciate the peace and quiet.”
“Thanks.” John lapsed into silence as David pushed him into the lift, then once they were on the correct floor, along a corridor.
The room itself was private; small and functional but also nicely-furnished. The view, across the Welsh hills, was pleasant. John, shrugging off David’s help, got out of the chair and made his careful way across to the window, opening it wide. He relaxed, slightly. Armishire was where he had spent his early childhood and it felt homelike.
“I’ll bring you some books and magazines – I have to go into Armiford this afternoon. Any particular requests?”
“I can’t read; it hurts my head too much.”
“That’s not going to last forever.”
“I’m fine, David, honestly. But thanks. I appreciate how much you’ve done for me.”
“It’s nothing. I’ll leave you settle in. Ask one of the nurses to fetch me if you need me – I’ll try and come back this afternoon. It might be a good thing to get some rest. Frank Rayner will be around this afternoon and I expect he’ll come and see you.”
“I will. I’m tired.”
“I’ll leave you to settle in then.” David wanted to ask if Daniel would be visiting – he could do with a consultation on Jana Olsen – but refrained. John was still recovering and it wasn’t fair to let on that he knew about their relationship – not if John wanted it kept a secret.
David took the stairs back down to his office two at a time, considering. He didn’t like Daniel Lyndhurst much personally, although he respected him professionally; but he was fond of his younger cousin. They had grown up together. He was therefore pleased that John was happy and, being relatively liberal, David did not care overmuch about the lack of convention in the situation. Others in the family would mind, however, and probably very much indeed.
John had looked a bit strained. David resolved to mention it to Rix when he next saw him; maybe Rix should tell Daniel that there was no problem with him visiting John in the San if he wanted to do so, as long as they were discreet in front of the other patients.
“What are you doing in here?” Rix demanded, moodily, seeing the children in the estate office. He was exhausted; running the farm with only occasional help from his father and Maurice was not at all enjoyable.
“Hiding from Mummy, she’s cross.” Alexander said, crawling out from under the desk. Normally his father would have laughed and said something funny, but now he just banged the drawers of the desk, scowling and ignoring them. The Bettany triplets were six; they knew when it was sensible to make themselves scarce.
“Daddy’s cross too,” Thomas said, miserably, as they escaped and ran the short way down a nearby path to the gate separating the ground of the Quadrant from the road outside. It was a fine, strong oak gate, and made a good swing, although they were forbidden to go farther.
“He’s always cross now,” James, the eldest by half-an-hour, leapt up first; pausing to give his youngest brother a hand, before he realised Tom was wheezing from the run.
“You need to go and see Daddy for medicine,” he said.
Tom pulled a face; his father was in a bad mood and Tom’s chest had been tight since very early this morning. He did not relish telling his father how he’d been ignoring it, hoping it would go away.
“Go on, stupid!” Alex was less tolerant. They all knew that Tom’s asthma wasn’t something to be ignored.
“You’re stupid!” returned Tom with spirit, before turning and walking back to the estate office, which was separate from the Quadrant itself so farmers and visitors to the farm wouldn’t disturb the family.
He paused at the door. Daddy had his head in his hands and looked sad.
“Daddy, don’t be sad!” Tom said, rushing forward, coughing, and hugging his father’s leg all at the same time.”
“I’m not sad, you monkey,” Rix lied; lifting the child onto the desk in front of him. “Bad chest again?”
Tom nodded. “I forgot to come before breakfast.”
“Make sure you come next time, Thomas. It’s very important that you tell me when this happens,” Rix rooted in one of the drawers for salbutamol that he had stashed away, resolving to ask his paediatrician cousin examine Tom next time they were all together.
“Why do you think I’m sad?” he asked, curiously, when Tom was sorted out and his breathing improved.
“Because you and Mummy were shouting,” Tom said, surprisingly. “We heard you when we were in the bathroom.”
“That wasn’t anything to worry about,” Rix dismissed it. “We were just talking. Why don’t you go and see Granny? I don’t think you should play outside today, but maybe Granny will do a jigsaw with you if you ask nicely. No running about either, do you hear?”
“Yes. Granny said Uncle John would come and see us soon – will he take us out on the boat again?”
“Uncle John is very ill – he might not be able to. I could take you out though,” Rix inwardly wondered where he would find the time, but Tom’s disappointment was not nice to see. “You won’t be able to jump all over Uncle John when he comes, is that understood? Tell your brothers that too. He’s not very well.”
“OK Daddy,” Tom manoeuvred himself off the desk by flinging his arms around his father’s neck and clambering down from there. He ran to the door, then stopped, remembering what he’d been told, and walked more slowly up to the Quadrant.
Rix returned to his work; thinking about that day’s argument with his wife.
The shadows lengthened over the fields as Rix walked over to Candlebury; his hands shoved into his pockets against the April chill. He missed medicine, especially not having colleagues to talk about things, share ideas, or keep up-to-date. Cook had mentioned that she’d met Daniel Lyndhurst’s housekeeper in the village and that he was in Devon for a week or so – hence the snatched hour away from the farm and estate office to visit him.
He’d forgotten how far it actually was, a good couple of miles. Still, distance meant very little to him and the walk was pleasant. Cold, though. The temperature was probably exacerbating Tom’s asthma. Rix frowned recalling that afternoon’s attack.
Candlebury’s gardens were looking much better, he thought, as he neared the Hall and rang the doorbell, which pealed impressively. He’d always liked Daniel’s home, although it lacked the cheerful family cosiness of the Quadrant. Candlebury was a stately home; Daniel could easily have opened it up to the public. Rix wondered now why he didn’t do so.
Daniel opened the door himself and invited Rix in at once, pleased to see him. He had been writing, he explained, and invited his friend to see his latest drafts over a drink.
“I can’t stay for long,” Rix was reminded of Mary-Lou; they needed to talk properly, without Mollie wanting Mary-Lou’s company and the children running in. Maybe he should take her out for dinner somewhere, although money was fairly tight and he was tired from working on the farm. The hours were horribly unsociable. He said a little of this to Daniel; they didn’t really have the type of friendship where they shared the intimate detail of their lives. They never had.
“You could always come here if you needed some space away from the family – the two of you, I mean. I’ll be away for a year, I expect.”
“Are you going for longer then?”
“Yes – there’s nothing keeping me here really, and it’s a good opportunity.” Daniel paused, “I thought I’d also have some treatment on my leg.”
“I see. Well, thanks for the offer.”
“I’ll get you some keys. You never know when somewhere to escape to can be useful.”
“When I get my dividend from the San, things will be easier. I can probably get us another pair of hands. Maurice still has to take things easy and besides, he’s off to Australia next week. Mother and Dad will go out for the wedding, and I think Mary-Lou wants to go as well. Mr Hope is going to have them flown over in his private plane, so there’s hardly any cost involved.” Rix didn’t mention that the wedding was the cause of one of the main arguments he and his wife had been having. “I’ll stay at the Quadrant of course.”
“What about the boys?”
“Oh, they can look after themselves. They start at the village school in Channing St Mary next week so they’ll be occupied during the day. I can’t afford a nanny for them. They know not to go wandering around the roads or near the animals.” Rix spoke absently, he was too busy reading Daniel’s paper. “I say, this is interesting – is it the Olsen kid’s case? How is she?”
“Oh, doing quite well. I was thinking of recommending she go to the school that Russell’s mother has – the Glendower House place? Russell tells me they’re experienced with delicate children and it’s fairly local. What do you think?”
“Seems a plan,” Rix read on. “Are you going to write about John?”
“No – he wasn’t my patient, remember?”
“Oh yes. You went to see him though, didn’t you? How did you think he was?”
“We didn’t get much time to talk; he was still a bit woozy from the medication. Rayner was quite positive.”
“Good. I have to say I was concerned when I heard you were visiting. I thought he might have regressed.”
“I just went as a friend,” Daniel said, downing the rest of his whisky rather quickly. “Anyway, Rayner seems very positive, as I said. You should speak to him.”
“I will. Is this for The Lancet?”
“No, one of the psychiatry journals. You’ve stopped writing?”
Rix pulled a face. “Not much point really unless the medical profession would suddenly be interested in a fascinating exposé of Devonshire dairy farming.”
“You really don’t want to be there, do you?” Daniel asked, surprised by Rix’s bitter tone.
“There’s not much I can do about it. I’m sorry – ignore me.” Rix hoped Daniel wouldn’t question him further. There was no point in pretending to look for alternatives. He was trapped at the Quadrant for the rest of his life.
John lay in bed, trapped with his thoughts. A week’s real rest had lessened the ever-present headache considerably although he still had some pain and of course, his back hurt unbearably at times. Francis Rayner had changed his medication and lowered his dose and his mind felt considerably clearer.
He closed his eyes, wondering if he could sleep. It was nearly ten. He generally dozed off in the very early evening, to wake in the early hours. Today, sleep wouldn’t come. He heard the door creak as someone came in and he opened his eyes.
“Sorry to disturb you, John.” Rayner automatically checked the IV. He looked tired, John thought. All the doctors in the San seemed to work hard, but Con’s husband seemed to push himself more than most.
“I was awake,” John said.
“I’m going to operate tomorrow. I just wanted to tell you myself. I’ll do my best for you.”
“Thank you,” John was touched. “I don’t expect miracles.”
“Attitude counts for a lot. You seem a lot more positive than you were when you first came here.”
“I was in so much pain I couldn’t think straight.”
“You were grieving too.” Rayner was perceptive.
“Yes... Do you think I’ll ever remember what happened to Lewis?”
“Would it make you feel better if you did?”
“I don’t know. Do you think – could I have done something to him?”
“What do you mean?” Rayner stared at him.
“I remember going through the passageway alone, there was water up to my legs. The light was flickering - coming in and out, you know, and I remember thinking it was going to go. It was – it was terrifying. I can’t remember if Lewis was with me or not. Do you think I left him below deck to save myself? He – was acting strangely. He could have been in shock.”
“I’m sure you didn’t leave him to save yourself.”
“I don’t know what I did.”
“It’s not your fault, you know.”
John sighed. “I know.”
“I know my telling you this doesn’t really help...”
“He had a gun. I haven’t told anyone. I think he might have shot himself.”
Rayner was silent for a long moment.
“You – you won’t tell anyone, will you?” John asked.
“Of course not. It sounds like an impossible situation and perhaps your friend thought it his only option. It shouldn’t change the friendship you had.”
“It doesn’t; not really.” I don’t think we were ever really friends. “So, it’s tomorrow, then. Thank you for doing this.”
“It’s my job, you needn’t thank me.”
“If – if something goes wrong... Would you do something for me?”
“Nothing will go wrong,” Rayner spoke with a surgeon’s natural arrogance.
“I don’t want to go to the Quadrant – I don’t want to be a burden to my family. If it’s very bad – could you find me some kind of nursing home?”
“That won’t happen. Absolutely not. I thought I’d explained the worst case scenario – that you wouldn’t be much improved from how you are now. You can walk short distances unassisted; you can take care of yourself. That wouldn’t change. A nursing home won’t be necessary. And as for being a burden – I’m sure your family wouldn’t think of you that way. In fact, I wouldn’t like to tell your mother I’d arranged for a nursing home!”
“I can’t bear them all fussing around me. I know it makes me sounds awfully ungrateful, but I’ve been on my own for the last –“ John made a hasty mental calculation – “Fourteen years. I can look after myself.”
Rayner glanced involuntarily at the scar on John’s wrist, although he didn’t say anything. John flushed and pulled his hand away. “I can,” he insisted, weakly, hating how feeble he sounded.
“Let’s get through tomorrow first, then, if you want to, I’m happy to listen to anything you want to tell me in total confidence.”
John nodded; he thought he might consider it.
“I’ll leave you to sleep. Nil by mouth, remember. I’ll see you tomorrow in surgery. Sleep well.”
“Thank you,” John lay down, thinking hard.
A week later, Daniel walked down Sixth Avenue, thankful that the weather was slightly warmer than it had been. The cold was trying, with his leg. He passed a bookshop with a US Naval display, some war hero’s memoirs. It made him think of John Bettany and he quickened his pace as much as he could until he was safely past. A strange display, he thought, with Vietnam everywhere. Military types weren’t popular here in New York, although to be fair, the nation was divided.
It had been cowardly to leave without saying goodbye. John had been in pain and shock; he had been grieving for his lost friend, lover, whatever the history was. Daniel had run to the States without looking back; scared as always, of rejection. He knew that much about himself.
Sighing, he approached a diner, an anonymous-looking, ordinary place where he could get a coffee and a sandwich and be left in peace. He knew too many people at the Plaza now and some of those he didn’t were attracted by his Englishness and he shouldn’t try to fool himself, his money (not that it was in plentiful supply at the moment) and his inherited title. John Bettany hadn’t cared about any of that; hadn’t even asked about it apart from admiring the house. True, they hadn’t liked each other at first but the very short time they had spent together had been perfect.
He missed him. He had to stop thinking about him.
Cecil looked up from her book, surprised that anyone was calling her name. She perked up a little when she realised it was Sophie Hastings-Lewis, who had always been friendly with her, even for ages after the others had just dumped her in order to hang around with Daphne. Cecil paid no attention to the fact that to have a friend you must first be a friend, and she herself had failed enormously in this lately. It was so much easier to blame Daphne than consider her own faults; moodiness, spiteful remarks, jealousy.
“Hello,” she said, cautiously. Maybe Sophie wanted to make friends again? Cecil determined she wouldn’t be too eager.
“We’re having a little party in the Sixth Form Common Room this afternoon. We’re all bringing something from our tuck boxes and Grete’s had some ices sent from her mother in Berne. Miss Annersley said we could.”
“Me, Carla, Léonie, Mary, Claudia, oh and Jan and Grete and Rachel.” Sophie sat down. “You should join us.”
All Daphne’s closest friends! Cecil’s heart lifted. They must have seen through her at long last. She smiled and Sophie tentatively smiled back.
“I’d love to,” she said. “I could ask Mamma for some of Anna’s best cream cakes.”
“Oh good! Claudia said you probably wouldn’t come, but I was sure you would.” Sophie was pleased.
“I’ve got French now,” Cecil said.
“Me too, let’s go together.” Sophie said and the pair of them went off together, Cecil secretly very happy indeed. That would be one in the eye for Daphne Bettany!
Daphne was unsettled. The morning had been full with an art lesson and then English Literature, which she enjoyed, but now she had a free afternoon and time to mope. She knew her brother was having his operation and was worried. Eventually she sought out Miss Annersley and asked for permission to go to Freudesheim which was immediately granted.
Auntie Jo was pleased to see her and they spent an enjoyable hour talking over kaffee. It was a great distraction. Unfortunately a telephone call from her publisher in London called Joey away for a long while and Daphne found herself worrying again.
“Oh, hullo,” Mike came in, looking tired. “Where’s Ma?”
“She’s on the telephone.” Daphne didn’t know Mike very well but shyness seldom troubled her. “John’s having his operation now, at the San in Armiford.”
“Oh... I hope it’s going OK,” Mike looked uncomfortable. Daphne was perceptive and immediately seized upon it.
“What’s wrong? Do you know something?”
“What do you mean? No – not about the operation. I was just thinking about that night. I should have stayed.”
“John said you were heroic in his letter to Mummy. I saw it.” Daphne looked at Mike with renewed respect. Mike shook his head.
“I wasn’t, not really. I only dismantled a few of the charges. John saved the whole company. I heard he’s going to get a medal.”
“I expect so.” Mike shrugged.
“He didn’t save the whole company though, did he? Your captain drowned. Rix told me.”
Mike’s expression changed. “Yes, well...”
Daphne noticed him close off and wondered about it. “What was he like?”
“I thought he was wonderful. He was awfully approachable, even if you were just a Midship, like me and he took an interest in what you were doing, you know? Even though he didn’t need to.”
Daphne thought of Miss Yolland, “Yes,” she nodded.
“But then – oh, hang. It doesn’t matter,” Mike turned away.
Mike turned around and Daphne noticed with alarm that he looked angry. His face was white and his eyes were flashing.
“He was just an utter bastard,” he said. “Don’t ask me anymore, Daphne, for I shan’t tell you. I think John should just have left him there to rot. I hope he did.”
He left. Daphne, feeling rather shocked, had enough sense to realise he wouldn’t want her to go after him. She hastily scribbled her aunt a note and headed back to school through the gate set in the hedge. Some painting in the art room would distract her. She was so lost in her thoughts she didn’t even notice Cecil and Sophie at the other side of the garden.
“That went well,” David had asked if he could assist even though it had been years since his last surgical rotation. “One feels so helpless,” he had confided in Francis Rayner.
“Yes, I’m pleased.” Frank had pulled off his gloves and surgical garments, now he turned to wash his hands. “Don’t think you can use this in your publicity for the hospital though, what with him being a national hero and all.”
“No, I’d already thought of it, but John would hate it. I can’t see my father being too keen on it either.” David heaved a great sigh. “He’s annoyed enough already about Rix.”
“I’m not surprised,” Rayner said drily.
“I know – but I’ve tried my best. Arguing with him just makes him dig his heels in further. He could work here full-time and pay for someone to run the wretched farm.”
“Yes. Anyway, this should be some good news for your family.”
“Your family too now, of course,” David pointed out.
“Thank you – yes. I’m confident he’ll make a good recovery. He should be averagely active. There was a lot less damage than I thought. When the swelling subsides he should start physiotherapy immediately.”
“Fantastic. I’ll arrange for that myself. Maybe you should speak to Rix?”
“I thought I’d phone the Quadrant now to let them know how it went...”
“I meant about coming back to surgery. If he leaves it any longer he’ll be no use to anyone.”
“I’ll see what I can do. He might not listen to me.”
“Oh, he will! He’ll remember how terrifying you were at the university...” David realised what he was saying and stopped talking. “Well... I’d better get back to my office. Thanks,” he muttered and left in a hurry.
Daphne loved the ritual of painting – getting her easel ready; mixing paints. It was soothing. Miss Yolland was fond of her and had given her permission to use the art studio whenever she wanted.
She was just hunting for turpentine when the door opened and Mary Huthnance came in, looking a bit perturbed.
“Daph, so sorry but have you got a few minutes? We’re just in the Common Room talking about those awful Middles.”
Daphne cast an anguished look at the blank canvas but she was a conscientious girl and knew that Auntie Hilda wouldn’t want her to shirk her Head Girl’s duties.
“Of course I do. What have they been up to now?” She asked, following Mary into the corridor.
Cecil placed Anna’s Leckerli pride of place right in the middle of the table. She felt happier than she’d felt for weeks.
“They look lovely, Cecil!” Carla Kennedy exclaimed.
“Anna’s baking really is fab,” Cecil said, all smiles. It was as though Daphne had never joined the School and she was back in her rightful place with all her friends.
“Karen’s given us some lemonade – shall I pour?” she offered, just as the door opened and Mary entered, followed by her cousin, whose expressive eyes widened in surprise when she saw the feast.
“I’m sorry, Daphne, but we’re having...” Cecil was about to ask her cousin to leave when the horrible truth dawned on her. The others crowded around Daphne, and Sophie gave her a hug. Claudia Harris patted her arm with affection.
“Surprise!” Mary grinned, and then continued in more serious tones, “We know how worried you are about your brother so we asked the Abbess if we could have a little party for you – just to show our support.”
“We know it doesn’t make up for everything, but it might be a distraction,” Carla added.
“Thank you,” Daphne smiled gratefully at them all. Even Cecil was there, she noticed, and she smiled warmly at her. Cecil stared back, feeling completely dropped upon. She busied herself pouring lemonade with a shaky hand. All this was for Daphne! She felt the tears coming and hastily put down the jug with a clatter.
“I-I must go,” she managed before she was dashing for the door, nearly knocking over the petite Léonie, and wrenching it open.
“What on earth...” Rachel Kennedy, Carla’s twin, gazed after her in disbelief.
“Good grief!” Claudia’s patience was not her strongest suit and scorn edged her tones. “Does she have to spoil everything?”
Daphne paused; she felt she should go after Cecil but she also knew that would not end well.
“Oh she hasn’t spoilt anything. This is amazing,” she said hastily, praising their contributions and the way they’d kept the secret until Cecil had faded from their minds almost entirely.
“Do you need any help?” Rix asked his brother, after several long weeks of physiotherapy and convalescence John was home.
“I’m fine,” He was. It was remarkable. He tired easily; his wrist was still in plaster and he was still in some pain at times but considering the seriousness of his injuries he really was fine.
“You will need to take it easy for a while,” Rayner warned. He had driven John down to Devon and would stay at the Quadrant for a night or two.
“I know. I will.” John promised. He had not taken the doctor up on his promise of a confidential chat but he had appreciated the offer as well as his skill in the operation. “I don’t want to set myself back.”
He took a few cautious steps towards the end of the drive; below them lay the sea; waves breaking onto the shore. He suppressed a shudder; it held no attraction for him now.
“It’s cold. Come inside.” Rix said; and they did.
“Where is everyone?” John asked; looking around the empty sitting-room.
“They flew to Australia yesterday. Mary-Lou went too. The kids are at school in the village now; I’ll stroll down to collect them later. I thought Mother wrote to you about it?”
“Yes, she did. I remember now. I didn’t know Mary-Lou was going.”
“She wanted to. Mr Hope flew them all out in his private plane so it didn’t cost us anything. She didn’t want to leave me here on my own, but well, I can’t afford to leave the farm.”
John was too tired after the journey to enquire further, but he didn’t miss Rayner’s frown.
“I think you should rest,” Rix said. “Leave your things; I’ll unpack ‘em later.”
“Thanks.” John wanted to point out that Rix had enough to do but it wasn’t the time. He felt all in. He shrugged off their offers of help with as much grace as he could muster and took the stairs slowly.
His bedroom was exactly the same as he had left it although someone had piled his correspondence sent to the Quadrant on top of his chest-of-drawers and Rix had left his suitcase on the window seat. A large package caught his eye and he had picked it up before he realised by the official stamps that it was his personal effects from HMS Commitment.
His letters from Daniel – and from Lewis. He anxiously wondered if anyone had read them before deciding that it didn’t matter. If they had; he would have heard about it. They were both gone now anyway.
He left the package where it was, unopened, and turned to the other letters. Official ones; discharge papers, information about his pension – he could leave those until a later date.
He opened the door to go to the bathroom and heard raised voices from below. He tried not to listen but the bathroom was a few doors away and his progress halting. He couldn’t make out much but Rix was in disagreement with the other doctor. They weren’t quite arguing, more debating, he thought, wondering about it. On his return journey there was quiet.
“It’s good of you and David to think about offering me a partnership but it would be impossible. I’m running the Quadrant now.” Rix said, testily.
“You could get someone in to do that, surely?”
“No. This is what I want to do.”
Rayner nodded. “OK.”
“I’ve got the triplets to worry about too. They can look after themselves here, more or less. If I were in Howells I’d have to find someone to look after them.”
“Surely only until Mary-Lou comes back?”
“She has her own work. They’ll all be away for three weeks, anyway.”
“I see.” Rayner didn’t see. He thought his protégé should be in the operating theatre but he saw the sense in dropping the matter for now. “We should talk about your brother.”
“Of course. Thank you for what you did. I was worried when I saw him in Portsmouth.”
“He should continue with his physiotherapy if you can manage to help him that would be good, but he knows what to do.”
“Of course I’ll help. He looks a lot better.”
“He still has memory loss, but it would be beneficial if he spoke to you about what happened, rather than just bottling it up.”
“I’ll ask him to,” Rix got up, frowning, and paced the room, restlessly. He wanted to discuss medicine, as they had in the old days, but he didn’t want to show the alarming gaps in his knowledge of the latest developments. He knew he couldn’t go back to surgery now.
He didn’t mind running the estate – not as much as he had at first, anyhow. He was starting to get to grips with it. The evenings were lonely though; he either worked on the estate books, played the drawing-room piano in a desultory fashion or wandered around the house. He missed his wife. He wished they were still in Carn Beg.
“I’m going to see how John is,” he said.
“Shall I fetch the kids?” Rayner offered, looking at his watch.
“Thank you, yes. Do you know where the school is?”
“Yes, we drove past it. Next to the church.” Rayner pulled on his coat and extracted his car keys from the pocket.
Rix went upstairs and knocked on John’s door quietly. There was no response, so he opened the door just the tiniest crack. John was asleep. Rix backed out and closed the door. He wondered if John really was recovered and selfishly, what he would do if he had not.
“Here you are,” Rix handed John a cup of tea.
“Thank you. You’re cold, have you been outside?”
“Yes, of course. This is late for me. The kids want to come in and see you.”
“What time is it?” John asked.
“Half past six. You slept the clock round and then some. You must have been tired.”
“Mr Rayner gave me sleeping tablets.”
“You can call him Frank. He’s married to your cousin, you know.” Rix was amused.
“I don’t even know him. I barely know Con. Still, I expect I can do something to fix that.”
“Yes. I’ve got to get back to the farm. I’ll bring your breakfast up – we have it at eight.”
“I can get up for it.”
“Breakfast in bed for the next few weeks, I’m afraid - doctor’s orders. Then we’ll see. You don’t want to set yourself back when you’ve come this far, do you?”
“I suppose not.”
“Good. Well, I should get back to the animals. I’ll see you later. Shove the kids out if they’re too tiring. I’ll tell them they can come in for ten minutes just before breakfast.”
“OK. Thanks.” John pulled the blankets up as it was chilly. The Quadrant was a big house and costly to heat.
“David’s coming at the weekend.” Rix informed him as he drew back the curtains.
“That’s good. Will he help you out a bit on the farm?”
“He might. I should go back to the estate office.” Rix gazed out of the window at the sea without really seeing it. “See you later.”
“Rix... Thank you for having me here. I know it’s making more work for you. I’ll help you out as soon as I can.”
“You’re always welcome here. It’s your home.” Rix smiled. “Aunt Jo and Uncle Jack want you to go to Switzerland too, to visit them. They were quite insistent about it.”
“I know – Aunt Joey wrote to me at the San.”
“I’d see how you feel about it in the autumn. No point missing the swimming and boating here, is there?”
“No.” The hand holding the tea cup shook slightly, but his self-control was good. “I’m stopping you getting on. I’ll see you later.”
The triplets didn’t come to see him before breakfast and John didn’t see them until just after four, when he was up, dressed and quietly sitting in the drawing room in front of the fire with his discharge papers and more tea, made for him especially by Cook. His pension arrangements were complicated and he was still wary of overdoing his reading.
“Uncle John!” They ran at him, ignoring what their father had said but
John was sitting and it didn’t matter. Rayner closed the door to keep the heat in, and sat down on the other armchair.
“Daddy said you’re a hero,” Alexander said, rather awestruck. “Will you tell us about it?”
“Grandmother cried – everyone thought you were dead,” James interjected.
“I’m sure you’ll hear all about it, but Uncle John needs lots of rest. Get off him, child, and go and see if tea’s ready.” Rayner interfered.
“You missed our birthday, Uncle John,” Thomas climbed down, reluctantly, but unlike their often-distracted father, Uncle Frank stood no nonsense.
“I know. I’m sorry I’ll make it up to you when I’m better.” John moved his papers out the way of the children.
The days at the Quadrant passed slowly; John frustrated at his lack of progress. He caught a cold – the children seemed to go round with permanent sniffles – which went to his chest. The nights he did sleep he had the old nightmares. One particularly bad night woke up Rix and the children. And the letter came.
Rix handed it over without ceremony at the breakfast table, barely even glancing at it. John saw the creamy white good-quality envelope, the official stamps and slid it quietly into his pocket. He had been half-dreading its arrival even since Captain Walsh’s words in Southampton.
David was coming again that day for the weekend. John didn’t mind; was actually looking forward to it. The children went to bed early and so did Rix, who was often tired and monosyllabic in consequence during the evenings. John pulled on his jacket and left the Quadrant by the front door. At the cliff edge he stared over at the sea below trying to collect his scattered thoughts.
Very few sailors loved the sea as he had done; most viewed it with a professional dislike. He had realised he was frightened of going out there again very soon after his return to Devonshire.
The wind and smell of salt made him cough again. He cursed, turning away and heading up the cliff road. There was a copse on the very outskirts of their land where he had often gone as a teenager. That would do.
He ripped open the envelope anxious now to know the worst. It was from Captain Walsh and appeared to have been dashed off by hand in a hurry. John read it, quite staggered by the contents. He had expected to be nominated for something, but this was totally unexpected. He laughed softly to himself. Walsh was way off the mark – it couldn’t possibly happen. Amused, he opened the envelope to replace the note and discovered the newspaper cutting.
Gazetted 19 April 1969, Lieutenant Commander John Noel Bettany DSO RN.
Following the wreck of HMS Camaraderie while she was at sea he rescued a large number of men who were trapped on board.
The QUEEN has been graciously pleased to approve the following Award(s): —
For bravery in saving life at sea:
The George Cross
Lieutenant Commander J.N. Bettany DSO RN 45K812 (Coorg, India)
When HMS Camaraderie was wrecked in severe storm conditions, Bettany, in flotilla, gave orders to steer HMS Commitment alongside the damaged ship to ensure all could and did evacuate. He crossed to the other ship, went down in another part of the ship, into a water-filled compartment to facilitate the rescue of two men who would otherwise have been left behind. When there was an incident when part of the ship broke apart he went to another part of the ship to ensure all were saved. To reach the Bridge, Bettany, who was without apparatus, had to grope his way through water and debris. Although unaware of the full damage which had been caused to the ship Bettany well knew that he was facing mortal peril. Acting with complete disregard for his own safety his bravery was of the highest order throughout.
He walked back, his hands in his pockets. The sound of a car, driving slightly too fast and braking sharply, made him turn around. David’s low red sports car with the top pushed back.
“Hallo old man. Get in. Where have you been?”
John got in, feeling a bit breathless. He knew he’d overdone it.
“That’s a nasty cough. Has Rix looked at it?”
“It’s just a cold.”
“Humour me. I’ll look at you when we get to the Quadrant.”
“All right. You do fuss.”
“Can’t be too careful with that rib damage you had. What are you doing walking so far anyway?” David didn’t expect an answer. He pulled up by the side of the Quadrant and they both got out.
“I’ve got some documents from the San I need Rix to see. Is he in the estate office?”
“I expect so.”
“I’m looking at your chest first though. I’ve brought my bag.”
“All right.” John didn’t argue. He supposed David hadn’t heard about the medal. It would make the news he knew, but perhaps David hadn’t heard it yet. Their phone was out of order so none of the family could ring either. He waited patiently while David examined him, used by now to doctors.
“Are you going to America?” David asked; a propos of nothing.
“No, why would I?” John was puzzled.
“I just thought...” David was interrupted by Rix’s return and John never found out what he thought.
“Why are you doing that in the hall? The fire’s on in the drawing room.” Rix rolled his eyes at David’s slapdash doctoring. “I’ve just lit it.”
“Good idea,” John shivered. “I’m fine anyway.”
“Loveday’s made tea. I’ll join you. Are you not feeling well John?”
“Just this cough. David fusses more than you do,” John said, ungratefully. David laughed. He seemed in a very good mood and Rix responded to it. They ate their meal with chat and laughter.
After tea Rix and David went off to the estate office. John took David’s car to the village to pick up the triplets. As he sped past Candlebury, enjoying the opportunity to put his foot down, he was struck by David’s comment about America. Could David know?
Surely not, he rationalised, as he slowed coming into the village. David would have told everybody if he did. He would have joked about it at best and at worst, been disgusted. John parked and examined his scarred wrists. David had been unexpectedly kind over that. He had been supportive also when John had come to London straight after Suez and so had Rix.
He sighed. If David would understand, the rest of his large family would not. His parents – Uncle Jem – the Maynards. He couldn’t tell them. He had kept himself apart from them for years for good reason.
The boys ran to see Cook for food while John parked the car on the drive so it was out of the way of the farm vehicles. The estate office was near and he saw David and Rix through the window, dark heads close together as they looked through pages of figures. He hesitated, unsure whether or not to join them, but Rix did look tired. He should help out more. He pushed the door open and went in.
“Can I help at all?” A coughing fit ruined the gesture slightly, but John sat down regardless.
“It’s a bit cold out here for you,” Rix said at once.
“It would be useful to get a fresh perspective. What do you think about this?” David pushed some of the papers over to him and began to explain the issues. John was interested. The three of them settled down to work, occasionally David or Rix would offer explanations if John asked, but mostly they worked in a companionable silence.
“Have you got those projections?” Rix asked, breaking it after an hour. He stretched, as John shuffled the papers in front of him, knocking something off the desk. “Oh, sorry.”
“It’s just a key. I shouldn’t have left it there.” Rix smiled and took the paper. John bent to pick up the key, idly, and as he saw the paper label attached to it in writing that was as familiar to him as his own, he gripped it.
“What key is it?” he asked, trying to sound casual.
“Just Dan’s key. He left it in case I wanted to go round there. I haven’t really got time.”
“It’s shut up. He’s gone abroad.” Rix looked up briefly from his paperwork. “Here, I’ll take it to the house.”
“Didn’t you know that he’d gone away?” David looked astonished.
“Yes I did.” John put the key back on the desk. “I should go...”
“When’s he back, John?” David stretched himself with a sigh, pleased to have a break. “Soon, I suppose, if you’re not going to America. Will you be moving to London when he is?”
John froze as Rix looked up, frowning. “You’re going to London?”
“No. Maybe.” John prayed David would stop talking. He clearly knew. Had Daniel actually told him? He didn’t think he would be able to act his way through this, but he gave a little laugh and spread his hands. “But I don’t know where Daniel Lyndhurst fits in. I barely know him.”
“But...” David blinked, utterly confused. “I thought...”
Rix looked at his brother, and at his cousin, and stood up and left, abruptly. The door banged in the wind after him.
John got up, slowly. He didn’t look at David.
“Oh, Christ. I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“What didn’t you know?”
“That you hadn’t told Rix about – well, about you and
“I’ll tell him I was joking. It’ll be OK. Look, sit down, won’t you?”
“How did you know? Did he tell you?”
“No. Come off it, we’re hardly best friends. I just guessed I suppose. He was always asking after you when you were away. Look, Rix doesn’t mind, you know.” Even David didn’t look convinced by his words.
Rix was in the kitchen garden; he appeared to be alone.
John went over to him, warily. He didn’t know what to say. “Rix.” He began. “I didn’t want...”
“Are you?” Rix was direct and his expression was thunderous. “With him?”
“Yes I was. It’s over.” It was a relief to finally admit it to his brother. No more pretence. He didn’t wait to hear Rix’s response but turned and went back to the house.
Rix stared after him for a long moment. Everything suddenly made sense. John had always been secretive, even when they were children. Ignoring his pressing farm responsibilities for the first time ever, he left his work and headed towards the cliffs, to walk and digest the news. His brother and his best friend. It felt like a betrayal. David seemed to know all about it. Why had John never told him?
John went into his bedroom. He still had sleeping pills left; now he shook two into his hand and swallowed them with water from the basin. He craved a long, dreamless sleep before we would have to face the others and pack; or whatever else he would now have to do.
“I brought you some tea,” Rix came in to his bedroom, having knocked. John sat up, rubbing his eyes. It was dark outside. He had slept for hours. Rix turned on the electric light. He seemed nervous. John took the teacup and thanked him.
“I’m sorry that I lost my temper.” Rix said. “I admit I was shocked.”
“David thought you knew.” John said. He was dressed under the bedclothes; he pushed them back and got out of bed. It was easier to talk at the same eye level. “I didn’t tell him. He guessed.”
“I know.” Rix was terrified he would say the wrong thing. “I realised that. I-I gave it some thought this afternoon. When did it start, I mean, when did you know?”
“I’ve always known.” John was frank.
“And Daniel – It started last summer didn’t it? Around the time of Fred Brentford’s big party.”
“That was the night we... Yes. But it’s over. He didn’t do anything wrong, Rix. I wanted it to happen. I – I like him a lot. Liked him, I mean.”
“I went to see him when we thought you had drowned.” Rix said, thinking hard. Was it just Daniel? Have there been others? He was full of questions but it was too new and he shied away from asking them. John still looked frightened. “I just want you to know that it doesn’t change anything, well, between us.”
“You don’t know how many times I wanted to tell you...” John’s eye fell on the envelope that held the letter from Captain Walsh. “They’re going to give me a medal. Here.”
Rix took the envelope but didn’t open it. “Did Daniel initiate it?”
“Not really. We both wanted it to happen.”
Rix nodded. He was reluctant to ask further questions and recognised that John seemed hesitant to talk about it. Perhaps he hadn’t wanted Daniel to go to America. He read the letter, not really taking it in, and then the cutting.
“The George Cross?” he asked John, incredulous. “They want to give you the George Cross?
“I think they’re mad.”
“Rot. You were incredibly brave. It’s entirely deserved. When does it happen?”
“Walsh says it’ll be announced on 19 April. That’s today. It’ll be in the papers.”
“Congratulations,” Rix said warmly. “Mother and Dad will
“I don’t know if I deserve it. No, I’m not being modest. I don’t remember anything. I remember going to get lifejackets and then... If I could remember what I did then I’d feel better about it.”
“But you directed a rescue of 500 men. You saved their lives.” To Rix it was simple. He sat down on John’s bed and re-read the citation.
The three of them sat down to a late dinner once Rix had put the children to bed. David did most of the talking. Rix was tired and John nearly silent. Rix had been all right about it on the whole but things had changed between them. They had used to talk about the future and that wouldn’t happen now without a new distance. He also had to tell his parents and that wouldn’t be easy. He had no idea how they would react.
At least Rix hadn’t told him to keep away from the children, he thought, as he watched the three of them run across the beach. He had a lot to be thankful for.
“Uncle John? Can you take us into the cave?” Alex ran back and pulled at the sleeve of his jersey.
“The tide’s turning. I promise I’ll take you when I come back.” He swung the boy up onto his back, marvelling that he could. The dark days when he thought he would never walk again seemed very distant now. He called the other two who came running.
“You could take us tomorrow, Uncle,” Alex pointed out. “Please?”
“No, it’s better in the summer.” John looked at his nephew. “You’re not to go down there yourself, understand?”
“Yes.” Alex said, a touch sulkily.
“It’s cold on the beach,” John held out his plate as David inelegantly dumped potatoes on it.
“Did you go out with the kids?” Rix asked, distractedly. He was reading papers from the forthcoming annual general meeting for the San. David had a similar pile, but was more concerned with finishing the newspaper crossword. John smiled at how different his brother and cousin were.
“Yes. Not for long. They wanted to go to the cave. Alex was very insistent.”
“Over my dead body.” Rix looked up at this and pushed the papers away. “That cave is cursed.”
“I don’t fancy it myself.” John said, suppressing a shudder, thinking of both the temperature outside and the thought of water rushing in suddenly. He watched Rix start to eat his meal, wondering if he could broach the idea of moving out. David’s words, though they had caused trouble, had set him to thinking about his future. He doubted if it would be with Daniel. It seemed wrong to leave the Quadrant when he had just started to be helpful after his long period of convalescence. That morning he had helped with the milking and mended some fencing himself, leaving Rix to do the paperwork, looked after the triplets in the afternoon and spent the early evening doing the rounds of the farm while David and Rix talked San business. He was tired, but not overly so. Also with the elder Bettanys and Mary-Lou returning from Australia in two weeks, he could think about moving out after that. Would Rix tell his parents that he was homosexual? He finished and pushed the plate away. David looked up.
“There’s a pud - apple crumble - it’s on the oven.” he said, hopefully.
John grinned and stood up. Some evenings they served themselves, very different from the formal dinners of their adolescence. Cook and Loveday often went out nowadays. Of course, it would change when their parents returned. He idly wondered if his sister-in-law was happy to leave her life in Armiford for the Quadrant, which was isolated. On evenings like this, with the wind howling, it felt like the last place left in the world.
It was draughty in the corridor and he thought he heard a faint yelp, like one of the triplets crying out. For a moment, he debated whether to go upstairs and check, but changed his mind when he heard David following with the rest of the used crockery. Later, he wished he had.
“Are you sure we can go? Uncle John said you couldn’t go.” Thomas was worried. He sat on the bed, anxiously pulling at the sleeve of his knitted jumper. Despite the fact that it was nearly ten, the triplets were fully-dressed under their bedclothes.
“Yes. He said I couldn’t go by myself, you moke. I won’t be by myself. You an’ James will be there.”
“But Daddy’s got to do the farm rounds…”
“He did. We heard him come in. He said to Cousin Davy that he didn’t need to go out until six. We’ll be back ages before six. We’re only going to the cave anyway.”
“Tom’s right.” James said, suddenly getting up and starting to undress. “We shouldn’t go at night. We’ll go tomorrow with Uncle John.”
“But he said not till summer…” Alex knew how stubborn his elder brother could be. He immediately grabbed Tom’s arm.
“Ow!” Tom screeched.
“Shut up!” Alex retorted. “They’ll come up!”
“They won’t. They’re too busy.” Tom said, rubbing his maltreated arm.
“Come with me.” Alex said, urgently. “We can go down the cliff and then it’s hardly any time to the cave. We won’t go in far, and we’ll take string with us like in that book.”
Rix often found it difficult to wake, but on this occasion he was at once fully alert. It was still dark, but from his window, which he had left uncovered, he could see the first grey fingers of dawn crossing the sky. He sat up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, then threw off the bedclothes. Something was wrong.
John was sleeping deeply, sprawled all over his bed, but he woke at once. “What’s wrong?”
“Tom’s missing. James and Alex says he might be on the beach. David’s getting dressed. I’m worried about the tides.” Rix said, almost frantic. He was holding Tom’s asthma medication. “Follow me down there?”
“Yes.” John started pulling on his clothes, but Rix had already gone. He only paused to grab the large torch from by the front door, left it open and once outside, sprinted along to the cliff path. The tide was out, Tom was unlikely to have been caught but he might have fallen and injured himself, especially if he had been sleepwalking. Something about Alex’s expression had made Rix wonder, but there was no time to think about that. David had been instructed to go out in his car along the cliff path, and if Tom had wandered onto the farm, he would be seen by the workers who were already up and about for milking. Exmoor was the only other way and the locked gate made that less likely. The steep descent down to the shore allowed John to catch up with him.
“Go slowly, Rix. An accident here isn’t going to help anybody.”
“I can’t see him. Can you?”
“No. We’ll split up. We’ll find him, don’t worry. You’re sure he’s not in the house?”
“The front door was wide-open. The kids are looking for him in the house anyway. I’ve told them to stay put. David’s going along the road.”
“We’ll find him, he can’t have gone far. Bother this sleepwalking! I wonder where it comes from? Right - you go left and I’ll go right.” John clapped Rix on the shoulder, then set off at a run towards the cave. Rix turned the other way, around the headland towards Trennington Point where the old, disused lighthouse stood, high above the cliffs and more likely to inaccessible. The thought of his son falling from the cliffs was suddenly sickening. A faint shout from his brother made him turn sharply and he saw a wave and headed towards him. John was heading towards the cave, and Rix almost laughed to think of how there must be some kind of curse on his little family when it came to it. As he came closer, he saw the small footprints in the damp sand that John had seen and he caught up with his brother when he paused and stooped over just by the start of the rocks.
“Stitch - sorry.” John said. “I’m out of condition.”
“He’s here. Thank God.” Rix suppressed his usual claustrophobic fear as he saw the footprints continue into the cave. They looked recent. He stepped forward, raising the torch but John stopped him.
“I’ll go. Don’t worry. I know it better than you do. Give me that and you stay here. Shout if the tide turns.”
“It has turned. Be careful. It comes in fast.”
“I know. He’s small, I can carry him if I need. Go to the path.”
“No, I’ll come.” Rix was determined, as much to protect his brother as his small son.
There was no time to argue, and John went first, shining the torch, which was powerful and fully-charged, hoping his back would last out if they needed to climb one of the tunnels. The idea of a child of six lost and wandering, perhaps falling injured, lessened his hatred of the thought of the treacherous sea filling the cave. He thanked God he had spent so much of his childhood exploring it.
“Is your back OK?” Rix asked.
“It’s fine. We’ll keep together. He won’t have gone far in, a kid couldn’t climb like we could. The only danger is the tide.”
John spoke truly; it only took a further eight minutes before they found a sobbing, trembling Tom curled up, exhausted.
“Daddy.” he sobbed, his asthma evident. Rix took him into his arms and dealt with administering salbutamol to control it, but it was a bad attack made worse by Tom’s fear. John shone the torch, one eye on his watch. The longer it took, the less likely they were to be able to escape along the beach, and there was some steep climbing to do. Tom was in pyjamas and barefoot. Later, they discovered he had been asleep for the whole journey and woken in the dark cave, giving him a big shock. Fortunately it had only been a short while until he was found, though to the poor child, it had seemed like hours.
“Breathe with me, Tommy.” Rix held the boy against his own chest. “Don’t cry. You’re safe. We’ll be home soon.”
“Rix - the tide.” John said, too low for Tom to hear.
“I need to stablise him. That’s better, good boy. I’m here. I’m not leaving you. We’ll spend the whole day together. That’s a good boy. Well done.”
John held Tom’s hand too, sitting down on the cave floor. They might get wet feet but they were in control of the situation. Suddenly a huge chunk of memory of the night of the hurricane flooded back, almost overwhelming him. The sound of creeping seawater, suddenly becoming a huge rush. He managed to hold it together, but it was a huge effort.
“Jack?” Rix saw his brother’s face in the torchlight. The anxiety he showed made John pull himself together.
“How is he?” He asked, drawing from his reserves - his training, his natural authority as a naval officer and the knowledge that two people were depending on him.
“Better. Come on, old man! We’re going back home. I want my breakfast!”
“Are - there pirate ghosts here?” Tom asked, fearfully.
“No such thing. Uncle’s going to lift you on to my back, OK? Careful, Jackie.”
“It’s fine.” They both heard the sound of the tide coming into the cave. “No - we’ll have to go through the passage up, or wait until it goes out. We’ll be caught in the current if we try to swim.”
They both knew that would mean either being dashed against the cruel rocks or swept out to sea and Rix was already shaking his head.
“We’re certainly not swimming! It's OK. I’ve done this before."
John climbed the ledge, while Rix held the torch, then took the torch and then his nephew. Rix scrambled up afterwards and they both breathed a sigh of relief that there was now no danger of drowning.
“We need to get back to the house. When I was here before, we managed to find a path up to the cliff road…”
John laughed. “I can do you better than that. Come on. You’ll have to carry him I think. It gets quite tight in places.”
“If it’s too bad, I’ll take him and get him to David. He’ll know what to do, won’t he?”
“Yes. I could have done without this little adventure! Where does it come out?”
“The Quadrant. There’s an old door that actually leads into the cellars. I found it when we were kids.” John laughed again. “Dad said he’d give me a good hiding if I ever told anyone.”
“Dad did? Really?” Rix was amazed. “Why is it even there?”
“Smugglers. You’ll see. I’ll tell you the full yarn later. This is the steepest part. Save your breath for a bit.”
It was an effort but they managed it, getting Tom up between them. He was rousing now, the relief of the rescue helping to revive him. His breathing still seemed hard, and Rix was conscientious in checking on him at regular intervals.
The reached the fork, that Rix remembered vaguely from the time he had been trapped here with Mary-Lou, so long ago now. John took the right hand fork and they walked in silence. It was flatter. John offered to carry Tom, but Rix refused. He’d fallen asleep, worn out, but seemed to be all right.
“We hit steps soon. Here! Don’t trip over.”
“This is amazing. These are man-made.”
“Smugglers. Maybe even wreckers. It makes you think doesn’t it? What kind of ancestors we had.”
“I’m just stunned.”
“No treasure, sadly! Tom’s sound asleep. I’d keep this a secret from them for a while longer. It’s an awful temptation and the tide is too dangerous. I think that’s why Dad was so strict about it, otherwise I would have told you.”
“I wouldn’t have come down here and I’m hopeful this is the last time I ever will. Another rescue, Lieutenant Commander!”
John sobered immediately. “I’m not. In fact…”
Rix interrupted him. “John - when we were kids… That day you had the row with Aunt Bridget, do you remember? I was at medical school. It was that really hot summer. You were swimming on your own after it was forbidden. We went to Trennington Point in the car one morning. Do you remember that day?”
“Of course. It was my last year at the Ship. Why?”
“I was just thinking. That day - you’d had to stay with that officer. You’d stayed overnight. Did he…? I mean, was that... “ Rix didn’t know how to finish his sentence. “This is just new to me. I want to understand.”
“Yes.” John answered the real question. He stopped, holding his back for a second.
“I didn’t even realise. You looked so strange when I picked you up. Oh, Jackie, let’s talk when this is all over. We need to talk properly. I’ve been awful to you and you need to tell me what’s been troubling you for the last year.” Rix shifted Tom to one arm, and hugged his brother with the other. “I’m so sorry. I’ll never be like that again, I promise. I just didn’t understand.”
It was too much and John broke down. A year’s worth of grief, rage and fear made him howl like his nephews might have done. Rix had his hands full for a good few moments, but he didn’t mind in the least. He knew it was probably the best thing for John.
They rested for a while. When John had recovered himself, they continued the climb and eventually found themselves outside a thick oak door that looked like it should belong in a museum. They opened it, with some difficulty. John was exhausted after the outburst of emotion and Rix was heavily-burdened.
“Bed for you - doctor’s orders. I’ll deal with Tom, settle the kids, then I’m coming back to you, OK? I’ll never forget this, Jackie, thank you so much. You saved my son’s life.”
John smiled. He already felt lighter than he’d done in years. Rix was on his side. He would help him.
He slept for a few hours and only woke when David thoughtfully came in with tea. He sat up, thankful that his back had suffered no harm.
“How’s Tom?” John asked, taking it.
“He’s going to be fine. Clean bill of health. How are you feeling?”
“I’m fine too.”
“Great news! I brought up your letters. Would you like a very belated breakfast in bed?”
“Oh no, I’ll get up… It must be time for lunch surely?” John clutched Daniel’s letter, identifiable by his handwriting and the American stamps. Two others were official Navy communications. He opened those first while David opened the curtains for him.
The first was his official discharge and pension information; he pulled a face. Although it wasn’t bad, he would still need to take a civilian job. The second, surprisingly, was a communique telling him he would retire as Commander Bettany. He saw the hand of Captain Walsh in the gesture.
“That’s good.” David said, as he briefly imparted the information. “I was going to ask if you fancied a spell working in the San. I need an Assistant Registrar - someone to keep on top of fees.”
“In Armishire?” John opened Daniel’s letter slowly.
“Switzerland. If you went for six months you’d soon shake off that cough. Think about it.” David clapped his cousin on the shoulder, then left.
Daniel’s letter wasn't long.
Dear John (it said)
I hope you are well and no longer convalescent. I am fine and I’m told my treatment was successful. Unfortunately it’s six solid months of recovery so I won’t be back in England until November at the least. I’m glad my lectures are finished. I’ll be at a nursing home in Connecticut for the next few weeks, then I’ll probably go back to the Plaza. After that, London I expect and back to work. Have you decided what you will do?
I know I behaved unreasonably when you were in hospital. Half of it was the relief from knowing you were alive and would be well but half of it was my own nature and failings. I’d give anything to take back what I said. Of course you have your life and your past, just as I do and it’s wrong of me to wish it different. I just want you to be content and happy, although you know how I feel about you.
There is one thing I want you to know and I wondered how to do it but then the answer came to me. Do you remember that day you first came to Candlebury and we spent time in the library? You found a box of newspaper cuttings that I have. I had an argument with Freddie over them and you were so kind, you didn’t even read them or ask about them.
I gave your brother my keys to the house. I want you to have them. You can use it as your own.
I find it difficult to talk about what happened in the house, but it's never been my home. The only time I thought it could be was when you were there with me.
I don't want to lose you. I want to share something private with you so if you did want to go to Candlebury and look over those old newspaper articles I would be glad of the chance to talk with you about it. I'd be so glad of it. If you wanted to, that is.
You can telephone me - use the one at my house. The best number to use is written above. Or of course you could write. I hope you will.
John’s hand shook slightly as he replaced the letter in its envelope. He would go to Candlebury and read what Daniel wanted him to read. In the cave that morning, when he had remembered Lewis Keeler for what he was, he had realised, perhaps finally, that casual cruelty with only the smallest bits of affection wasn't love. He wanted love. He was tired of being lonely.
It might not work out with Daniel Lyndhurst but one day it might with somebody else.
Is anyone still reading this haha. I've written a huge chunk which I'll post over a couple of nights. I'm nearing the end of the whole thing.
The children were upset by the early morning’s happenings, but got over it fairly quickly, as children did. Tom was still poorly and Rix kept him with him, curled up on the drawing room sofa. A tearful Alex had confessed the plan to sneak to the cave and also telling his brothers about ghosts. Rix wasn't angry with him; he was just thankful that his wife would return the next day from Maurice's Australian wedding at last.
As he struggled with the boredom of looking over the dairy accounts on the drawing-room window seat, occasionally glancing over at his sleeping son, John and David joined him. Both looked pale after their broken night but Rix was glad to see that his brother had lost the awful look of strain that had been his for the last year or so. James and Alex followed, with Loveday carrying in the tea tray.
David went straight to Tom and propped the sleeping child up more with the sofa cushions, to assist his breathing. Once, Rix realised, he would have been arrogant enough to have resented the interference with his doctoring, but now he was just grateful for David’s paediatric expertise.
It was raining that afternoon, so John drove to Bideford but first to Candlebury, in David’s car. Daniel’s letter had unsettled him and so had the invitation to work at the San but the main thing on his mind was Lewis Keeler and the fact that his memory of the shipwreck had returned. He had arranged to talk to Rix after dinner. Once he would have done anything to keep him from knowing about his private life but now he didn't care. It was better to be open with them. He shied away from telling the rest of the family of his orientation as yet.
It was always a surprise to turn into the driveway and see the enormous old house. It made the Quadrant seem insignificant. No cliffs here, just miles of rolling parkland and then woods, reaching out to the moors. It was peaceful, no farm workers or animals, and the house closed up. The grounds looked well-tended and the house less shabby. The fountains in the water-garden were turned off. The colourful gypsy caravans had gone. John parked by the back door and sat for a while, just gazing at the view in the late-afternoon sun.
Daniel had said it was full of ghosts but to John it seemed peaceful and welcoming. The memories of last summer washed over him and he had a sudden vivid memory of Daniel’s profile in the sunlight.
The house was cold and his footsteps echoed in the hall. Again that sense of being welcomed, coming home. He paused to look at the grand staircase, made with wood from the Armada, and wondered what he would find in the library.
It was locked but he remembered that Daniel had told him to take the key from the desk in the study so turned left down a passageway and came across a portrait that could only be Daniel’s mother, dark-haired and dressed in thirties fashions. On the antique sideboard sat family photographs, for some reason not put away or covered in dust sheets. Daniel had been a solemn-looking child with dark hair and surprisingly there were no photos of his father at all. John paused, replacing the photo frame he had picked up. Last summer, Daniel had said his father drank. He had never mentioned him again. John hastened to the study for the library key, suddenly anxious to read the newspaper clippings. He wondered at his own self-centredness, he had been so wrapped up with his own troubles and thoughts that he had never asked Daniel about any of it but there was a mystery here and he wanted the answers.
He had forgotten how large the library was but John found the box of newspaper clippings with no problems. They were exactly where he had dropped them that time. Taking them to the enormous old table, he emptied them out and sat, deciding to sort them into some kind of date order, but it was impossible not to read the headline that screamed out at him ‘MURDER: Viscountess slain at home’ and then he saw the date, 1942.
About an hour later, when he had exhausted all the clippings, he stood up and switched on the electric light. It was starting to get dark outside, although the rain had stopped. He looked at his reflection in the window and turned away, he still looked shocked from what he had learnt. His heart ached for Daniel, who had been just eight or nine years old and had been in the house when his mother had been choked to death.
He sat down, automatically smoothing the yellowed, fragile cuttings and obituaries. They weren't long considering the story, an aristocratic murder, presumably the events of the War had overshadowed it. The longest article was the obituary from The Times. He carefully packed them away and stared at the box. He had so many questions and needed to think. Why had such an awful thing happened to Daniel and how could one get over something like this? No wonder he had avoided Candlebury for so many years. No wonder he preferred London and the happy family atmosphere of the Quadrant.
He started and nearly cried out when the library door opened.
“Freddie - you made me jump.”
Freddie Brentford, his brother-in-law, and Daniel’s cousin, apologised charmingly, although he looked suspicious.
“I saw the car. I came to pick up some papers Daniel wanted me to look at. What are you doing here? Daniel's staying on New York.”
“I know. He - he asked me to come here and - oh God, he wanted me to know about his mother. I never knew.”
Freddie went white and his eyes glittered, he looked angry for a second before he composed his features. He reached for the box of cuttings and drew it close.
“It’s local gossip, surely? She was quite a famous debutante and my uncle - well, it was in all the newspapers. I thought your whole family knew.”
“No. We - we didn't move here until Mother and Dad came back from India…”
“He was a violent drunk. He made their lives a misery until he snapped and killed my aunt. He hanged for it. Good riddance.”
“I'm so very sorry.”
“I need a drink if I'm to have to talk about this.” Freddie left abruptly. John shivered, and knelt to light a fire in the grate. It took a while, but Freddie took longer to find drink.
“Here.” He put a bottle of brandy on the table and threw the lid off the box of cuttings. “I take it you've read these?”
“Daniel said I should. He wanted me to know.”
“I don't see why.” It was obvious that Fred Brentford had no idea of any relationship between his cousin and brother-in-law. He stared at John, clearly puzzled. John didn't say anything but he did come back to the table and pour himself a small glass of brandy.
“We’re friends. It's the sort of thing you should share with a friend. I want to help him.”
“I see.” Freddie knocked back his brandy. “My aunt was very beautiful. She had a lot of admirers. My uncle was convinced she was adulterous. One night he got drunker than usual and strangled her. Daniel was in the house, he was ill, but he came downstairs and saw his father leaving and found my aunt dead. The housekeeper - she’s still here - phoned the police. They caught my uncle in London a few days later. Dan came to live with us, then went away to school and came to us for the holidays. Look - it left a mark on the whole family. I think it’s best left forgotten.”
John nodded. “I understand. I won’t mention it to anybody.”
“If Dan wanted you to know… I’m surprised he mentioned it. He never talks about it. I didn’t even know he had these newspapers until that time. You were here then.”
“I should go. I have to get to Bideford before the bank closes. Will you come to the house tomorrow? Mother and Dad are home, in the afternoon.”
“Of course. I spoke to Maeve yesterday, they had a good time and your father is very well.” Freddie stood up, and John followed suit. He sensed that Freddie had reached his limits of tolerance about the subject. Nevertheless, he had a lot on his mind as he drove towards Bideford.
The bank manager had been very candid. John had enough of a pension and private income to live simply, even to buy a small London property; but if he wanted to enjoy a few luxuries he would have to get a job.
It took a lot of the pressure off, however. He had income from shares in the school and the san, like most of the family. His pension was assured, but as the second son he would receive very little from the Quadrant, which was entailed. He could live very quietly with his parents, helping on the estate, joining in the life of Channing St Mary and spending his spare time swimming and sailing, once he found the nerve to go back out into the sea. It would give Rix the opportunity to go back into surgery and help his father. He was recovering quickly from his injuries and apart from tiredness, which David had assured him would pass soon, could cope with any estate work.
It would be lonely though and the part of him that yearned for adventure, that had fit in to the Royal Navy and progressed so quickly through the ranks, recoiled from it. Yet again, the ever-present ghost of Lewis Keeler floated past him. They had been so alike in so many ways yet so different at the end.
John turned into the lane that led to the Quadrant’s grounds. Now to talk with Rix.
Thanks for your comments! Enjoy
He had wanted to walk, maybe across the cliffs, but it was raining and Rix looked tired. David was working in the Quadrant’s library, frantically getting everything finished before his father arrived tomorrow with the Bettanys, to prepare for the San’s annual general meeting. Rix yawning over the newspaper and John himself was adding another log to the open fire in the drawing room, wondering if he could interrupt his brother. Rix however hadn't forgotten.
“I told Davy not to disturb us.”
“Thanks.” John left the fire and came over, taking a place on a footstool near to the sofa. For a moment he as silent as he marshalled his thoughts but Rix didn't push him and then it came out in a rush.
“They'd rigged up lines to get everyone over from the Camaraderie. I gave the order but then I heard their depth charges might still be live. I knew they'd blow us all up if they went off, if she went down. I was responsible. I went over the lines to her,” he began confusedly. “I think something did go off in the end, that was what made me hit my head. Anyway, I went over and I went below and found young Mike and a Lieutenant and got them to go over. I found Lewis - I found Lewis on the Bridge. He was - strange. He wasn't in his right mind. He had a gun. I was more frightened then than I'd been when I thought the depth charges might go off.”
“You need to begin at the beginning, Jackie. Who is Lewis?” Rix looked bewildered.
“Sorry. Lewis - he was my friend. Commander Lewis Keeler from the ship that sank.”
“I see. He had a gun?”
“He said he would rather shoot himself than drown. I haven’t told anyone this.”
“When you say friend..?”
“Yes.” John looked directly at Rix for the first time. “Yes. For years, since - before Aden. It was complicated. I’ll tell you, but not now. I need to tell you what happened that night.”
“He was rambling a bit but sometimes he seemed in a daze, sometimes angry... I went to get life jackets from the store, it wasn’t far from the Bridge. I left him there. There was water coming in, flooding in. I had to wade through it to get back to him. He was waving the gun around, he kept saying it was for the best, he wasn’t any good for anyone. He was glad his wife had got out of their marriage and that they hadn’t had children.”
John ignored Rix’s surprise at the mention of Lewis’s wife and continued.
“I knew we didn’t have much time. He started raving, that he would kill me too if I didn’t leave. I’d never seen him like that, he was always very calculating, very controlled.”
John looked away, into the firelight.
“That was the last thing I remembered, before this morning. The water in the cave made it all come back somehow. I never told the Service about the gun. I remember now, I finally got him to come out, to the upper deck. I thought they might send a helicopter for us, if the wind died down enough. He completely broke down, I had to drag him with me. I think it was the water. It was everywhere.
“We saw the lights of the other ship - my ship. They’d gone very far away. That was my lowest point, even though those were my orders… I knew I was going to die.” John shuddered at the memory. “I started praying that it would be quick, you know? And I thought at least I’d saved all those men. It was so cold, too, and we were soaked. I was holding him, but he was nearly comatose. He let me take the bloody gun then, and I was holding it, and the ship was going down… It was awful. I did think for a moment that I should just - well, I obviously didn’t. I couldn’t have done that to him but I did understand why he said what he said. Oh - something about how it would be for the best. He did want a suicide pact, I think.”
“Go on,” Rix was horrified. He reached out for his brother, but John shook him off.
“No, I’m all right - we’d both sort of collapsed, on the upper deck. I got up on my knees, then managed to stand up and I looked at the gun. I was going to unload it - I remember a light flashing off it - it was the helicopter’s lights - you couldn’t even hear it, the ship was - it was like the ship was screaming. I looked up and saw it. Lewis didn’t see it. He lunged at me, to get the gun, and I fell, against the ship’s rail, there was a huge bang. It seemed too loud to be a gunshot. I think it may have been the depth charges. From what they told me in hospital, I think that’s when I was knocked out and got all those broken bones. We fell pretty hard. Lewis must’ve gone through the rail and the sea took him. I - I just hope - well, either he drowned, or I shot him, or he was blown up.”
“I’m so sorry, Jackie.”
“So I’m not a hero. Nowhere near. I probably killed my - him. If I’d just have gone to the Bridge first - Mike and the other man were fine. I didn’t need to interfere. I didn’t even need to leave my ship. He might have been alive if I hadn’t. And I didn’t tell anyone because I’m a coward...”
“He might have committed suicide anyway.” Rix softened his voice. “You are a hero. The Navy must know this. The helicopter pilot will have seen you. His wife - all right, his ex-wife then! She thinks he died a hero’s death, and he did. It takes real bravery to go through processes like that knowing you might die. You did everything right. You got Mike to safety, and the other man. You risked your own life. You did everything you could, and I’m sorry you lost someone that you loved. I very much doubt you shot him. I saw your medical records, remember, and you had no explosive traces on you.”
John visibly relaxed. “I didn’t love him anymore.”
“Of course. Someone you once loved, then. You know, I was thinking, if you wanted to tell Mother and Dad, well, I know they like Daniel. I think they’d come round to it…”
“I’m not with Daniel.” John shied away. “Only you and David know. I don’t want anyone else to know.”
“OK, OK. I understand. We won’t say anything.”
“You can tell Mary-Lou.” John conceded. “What time are they due to arrive?”
“Afternoon - threeish. I won’t tell her what you told me tonight. I won’t tell anyone.”
“Could I see that friend of yours again? Dr Forrest?”
“Sure. I’ll ring him tomorrow. This must be David - finished?”
“I was just going to ask you the same thing.” David looked from one to another and sat down when John nodded. “I’m dreading tomorrow.”
“It’ll be fine. You’re doing well. Uncle Jem will be pleased.”
David pulled a face, then laughed. “I’ll go and look at the animals. You look tired.”
“I’ll go. I had a decent sleep. You stay here.” John stood up at once.
During the farm rounds, he thought about Lewis. Although he naturally grieved the death of his friend and former lover, it was freeing. Lewis would never have left him alone. He finally had freedom.
He pulled off his coat and muddy boots in the scullery, then went to wash in the cold tap there, risking the water temperature. The May night wasn’t too cold. It would be good to see his parents back tomorrow and they would be happy to see him healthier and happier.
He heard Rix and David come into the kitchen, and a sentence or two floated to him.
“Daniel isn’t the worst…”
“...Taken advantage of him rather. Oh well, I can’t stop him…”
He immediately went to the adjoining door. “I’m back.”
Rix and David looked at each other, then Rix spoke. “I’m sorry, John. It’s none of my business.”
“Of course it is. You’re my family. You only learnt something huge about me a week or so ago. I’m still the same person. Daniel hasn’t take advantage of me, but people have in the past. It’s different now. I’m much older - I’m practically middle-aged! I know what I’m doing. You don’t need to worry about me.”
“He worries about everyone.” David interjected. “He was asking why I wasn’t settled down earlier. Like I have time!”
“You’ve got time for women,” Rix joked. “Thanks for doing the rounds, John.”
“Hopefully there’ll be no sleepwalking exploits tonight.”
“I’ve got him in with me. They’re being good, they’re excited to see Mary-Lou tomorrow.” Rix yawned. “I might go up. I’ll be up early but you should both lie-in.”
“No arguments from me.” David said. “Come on, John, let’s play cards or something.”
“I’d like that,” John immediately realised that David wanted to talk to someone too.
“I wanted to talk to you too.” John said, as David followed him into the drawing-room. “Leave the cards.”
“OK.” David threw another log on the fire and they settled themselves. “Let me go first.”
“Switzerland - I spoke to Uncle Jack on the phone today and suggested you for Assistant Registrar. That’s if you’re still keen? The only thing is, I thought you might go in the autumn, but there’s a bit of a problem and they need someone sooner. What do you think?”
“I’d like that, but maybe - I think Rix needs help here. If I were around, he could go back to surgery…”
“He’s getting an estate manager. The san’s done well and the best thing you can do is go out there and make sure it’s going to do well next year too. Rix said he was going to mention this to you when you spoke this evening?”
“He didn’t really get chance. OK - if you’re sure he’s going to be able to cope. I suppose I could come out for six months, or whatever it was you said.”
“Oh, yes, just until Christmas. Uncle Jack was thrilled, he suggested you have some rooms at Freudesheim. Look - there’s some problems with the current Registrar, he’s the husband of Aunt Joey’s pal actually… We knew her in Tyrol. He’s ill and needs to take some time off. He doesn’t want to let anyone down, he’s a nice chap, but he could do with a bit of time. Some things have been allowed to slip. Uncle Jack’s stepped back quite a bit now, and it’s being run more or less by Reg Entwistle - you know, Len’s husband. He and I don’t always agree. Since Dad’s been in Australia, I’ve had to get more involved, as you know, and I really can’t miss the opportunity to get someone I trust in there. Do you understand?”
John looked at him, feeling in his pockets for his cigarettes, despite his desire to stop smoking. “You want me to spy for you.”
“Steady on, old man! Not quite that! I’ve seen how you’ve sorted the estate office and all the orders and rotas. Rix told me how much easier everything is now you’ve done all the admin. You even found that funding.”
“It wasn’t hard, Rix just didn’t have time…”
“I know. Look, we’ve always been pals as well as cousins. I wouldn’t ask you to do this if I didn’t need you. Now listen - Rix has Mary-Lou, and the kids. Don’t take offence, but what has Lyndhurst promised you? I know you went there this afternoon.”
“He hasn’t promised me anything. What do you mean?” John was curt.
“Is he the reason you want to hang around here?”
“He lives in London. He doesn’t spend much time here.”
“Apart from when you were here, then you couldn’t keep him away from the place. OK - pax. It’s none of my business. If there’s nothing keeping you here, will you go to Switzerland or not?”
“If it really is just for six months and if Rix is getting an estate manager - I will. I want to know everything before I go though. I’m not walking into problems I don’t know anything about.”
“I’ll probably come out with you. We can travel together. Have you ever met Entwistle?”
“Once or twice. I can’t say he made a bad impression.”
“I don’t know what Uncle Jack’s promised him, but I’m the majority shareholder, after Dad anyway, and I want to know a bit more about him before he ends up running the bloody place.”
John gave in. “I knew I’d be spying for you. OK - fine. I’m sure he’s decent enough. Rix gets on with him.”
“Rix takes every waif and stray under his wing. You and I are different; more choosy with who we pal up with properly. Apart from this Lyndhurst aberration.” David grinned. “I’m joking. He’s all right. Arrogant though.”
“I thought he was too, at first, but he’s not.”
“What did you want to talk about?”
“It was about Daniel,” John told his cousin everything he’d discovered that day and his conversation with Fred Brentford. It took a while to cover everything but David was patient.
“How awful. I did hear something about this when we were studying, but I’d forgotten about it.” David looked thoughtful. “I knew his parents were dead. I worked with him when I was training.”
“He wanted me to know but I don't really see why…”
David understood people. “He wants a life with you. Listen, I don't have a problem with how you are, despite what I've said in the past. I've homosexual friends. I'm going to offend you again but are you sure you can support someone with so much past unhappiness? You've been through a lot - he should support you.”
“Anyway,” he continued immediately, “You said he’ll be in the States until November and you'll be in Switzerland. I know I’ve got a vested interest, but you can use the time to figure out what you want. If I were you - and you can ignore this advice if you want - I would write to him and then say you need time and space to think. Don’t rush into a decision. Have a bit of life - not that the Platz is very lively, but there’s the Casino in Interlaken and you could do some travel at the weekends.”
“That would be good.”
“You could even go back to the Tyrol. The Maynards have a holiday house.”
John nodded. He barely remembered the Tyrol, but it might be interesting to go back. David wished him good night and went upstairs, leaving him to write to Daniel, which he did, frowning over it until the fire burnt low and he could address it for sending the next day.
David found it hard to sleep that night. He kept thinking of what John had told him about Daniel Lyndhurst’s tragedy and he was nervous about the San’s AGM. The next day his parents and aunts and uncles would converge on the Quadrant and only a few days later the AGM would take place in Armiford. He had already been criticised for moving it from the usual London hotel, but it was much more cost-effective. He had rather hoped that some of the family wouldn't come, but no fear. Glumly he got out of his bed and went over to the wide window seat where he'd left his papers.
He'd made a lot of money for the family over the last year through sheer hard work. It was frustrating that the Swiss San was slipping again and he had only recently learnt from Rix about how it had nearly gone under six years ago. The amount of debt he had built against the San had shocked David. It was time for Jack Maynard to retire.
He uncapped his pen and started to scribble notes in the margins of his financial statements. He had received a large proportion of shares in the San as an inheritance from his late godfather, Sir James Talbot, and he wondered now if his father and uncle had realised how much he actually owned. He would certainly be making that point in the meeting. It was also time his father started to treat him with respect.
Mary-Lou was tired from the long journey, but eagerly looking forward to seeing her children and husband. She could barely wait for the car to come to a stop before she opened the door. The boys saw her from the window and waved, disappearing to run to the front door and wrench it open. She knelt to gather them into her arms, exclaiming at how they had grown over the last few weeks. Mollie and Dick followed her and there was a general welcome in the hall. Rix kissed his wife.
“It’s so good to see you,” she said, her eyes sparkling.
“I really missed you,” he said, quietly, his arms around her.
“How was the wedding?” John kissed his mother, and picked up her case, she clung to him, thrilled to see him well.
“It was lovely - I’ve got photos - you look so much better, mavourneen. Thank you for your letters, and of course, your brother wrote to tell us how you were doing.”
“He hasn’t told you all the news, Aunt Mollie,” David said, laughing. “Commander John Bettany GC will be taking you to Buckingham Palace soon.”
“Oh, John…” Mollie was quite overcome. John took her arm as they went to the drawing room as a group, pleased that David had broken the news so matter-of-factly.
Loveday brought tea and David briefly looked over the wedding photos, Mollie and Dick made a fuss of the children and of John. Rix and Mary-Lou spoke quietly in the corner of the drawing room together, too far away for David to hear them. He had rather thought things had been strained between them before Mary-Lou had gone to Australia, but they seemed happy enough now, eyes for nobody but each other. He suppressed a sigh; one day he would have to apologise for avoiding their wedding in that fit of pique because he had come second place to Rix.
Since then, seven years ago, he hadn’t met anyone quite like Mary-Lou, but now he knew that he was over her. Even though he had genuinely felt a speak of attraction between them at odd moments, it wasn’t fair on anyone to pursue her. It was the first time in his life he had lost out to his cousin, but, he thought, glancing at the children, he would have to be the loser.
He had always decreed that marriage wasn’t for him, but looking through the photographs, he wondered if maybe he should start to think about it. He would like children; he was fond of them at a distance, little Jana Olsen would melt your heart. He was glad he had pulled her through her illness.
Maybe he could think about it when he’d sorted out the San.
David and John walked across the cliff path and down to the beach below; the weather had been pleasant all day, it was good weather for swimming and they had another two hours until dinner. John was quiet, he was thinking of Switzerland and if it would work out.
“You should take it slowly and not strain yourself,” David said to him, as they undressed to their swimming trunks. “I know you've made a remarkably fast recovery but the tide is pretty fierce.”
“I will. Thanks for coming down with me.” John hesitated. “Is the scarring really awful?”
David looked up, considering, “What scarring? Oh - the operation. It's not too bad, honestly. Anyway, I stitched you up afterwards and I think I did a fine job.”
John laughed, which was what David had wanted. “I didn’t know that. Thank you.”
“It was the least I could do.” David frowned as he looked over at the sea. Tomorrow they would all go to Armiford for the San’s general meeting and from there, they had arranged to travel to the Oberland together. David would stay for a short while - two weeks, he thought - then he would head back, leaving John to stay to help out Walter Maclaren, the Registrar, and Jack Maynard. He knew that John still had nightmares and had moments of post-traumatic stress and he was hoping that a change of scene would help. Mollie and Dick hadn't wanted their son to leave the Quadrant so soon, so that had all had to be sorted out diplomatically and small Thomas had also sleepwalked last night, knocking over a sideboard and giving them all a broken night’s sleep.
John moved over to paddle in the water’s edge; his attention briefly caught by some gulls flying out over the sea. The sea wasn't as cold as he had thought, he went in quickly and under, before he could change his mind.
He'd forgotten how much he loved swimming here. He struck out and swam out quite far, avoiding the drag of the tide and leaving David behind, although he was careful to heed his advice. He was out of condition, he thought ruefully, as he turned and floated on his back, catching his breath. He'd always been so fit. Daphne had written to tell him that they went swimming in the summer at Lake Thun and there was no end of alpine walks.
He'd also managed to speak to his father last night, quite seriously about the Quadrant and about money, that he had signed his substantial yearly dividends from the San over to them and how he thought there should be an estate manager to take the work from Rix, who was clearly unhappy and yearning to go back to surgery.
“You look distracted,” David joined him, splashing water.
“I might go into Bideford tomorrow morning, I need some new shirts.” John didn't want David on the subject of Rix not working in medicine.
“Armiford might be better. You'll have to bring them yourself on the train anyway, our trunks to Switzerland went this morning.”
“I'm to be presented with my award in October. I thought I'd fly back then out again to Switzerland, would that be all right?”
“Sure.” David was easy.
“I can take three guests. I'm taking Mother and Dad and Captain Walsh. He's been very good to me and it's the least I can do.”
“Very nice,” David squinted at the shoreline. “Is that Rix and Mary-Lou?”
“It's your parents.” John waved. “They must have just arrived.”
David laughed, ruefully. “Here was me thinking we could have a proper swim. I'd better go in, but you can stay out a bit longer. Don't overdo it though and come a bit closer in.”
“OK boss.” John pushed his wet hair out of his eyes and waved again to his aunt. “I'll just have another five minutes, then I might have a bit of a walk. Tell them I'll be back for dinner.”
“They'll want to see you.” David said, before turning and swimming back to the shore.
He kissed his mother and shook hands with his father, before grabbing his towel and clothes.
“You're looking well, darling,” Lady Russell said, evidently delighted to see him.
“It's good to see you both.” David said, taking his mother’s arm as they climbed the path back to the Quadrant. “Did you come straight here?”
“We dropped the bags and Dick told us you were swimming, so we thought we'd walk down. What's this yarn about John going to Switzerland?”
“Is John well enough to be out there alone?” Madge asked, but as they all turned around they could see he was heading back to the shallows. “Shall we wait for him?”
“No, he's fine and he needs to go out alone sometime. I thought you would be going straight to Armiford?”
“We thought we could take some of the luggage and we really wanted to see Rix’s triplets. It's been a while.” Madge said, fondly. David nodded.
“Sorry Dad, yes, Switzerland. It's a good plan for him. I'll travel out too but stay a week or two then head back to Armiford. He's doing well. Did Auntie Mollie tell you about the GC?” David looked over at John, who was a tiny figure below, but was getting out of the sea, and reassured, led the way to the Quadrant.
John swam to shore and stood for a while to catch his breath. Quickly drying himself and dressing, he found Daniel’s house key in the pocket of his trousers.
He had a good hour and a half until dinner and although he wanted to see his beloved aunt, he should really give her time with David. Instead of going up the cliff path, he turned right, towel rolled up under his arm, and headed towards Candlebury Cove.
It only took twenty minutes and would have only have taken ten if he were fitter. The key turned in the lock and he was in, no Freddie today and the house was cold.
Finding the telephone, he dialled the transatlantic number he'd committed to memory and listened to it ring, running his hand through his damp hair, a nervous habit he'd never been able to break.
Daniel didn't answer. John had rather expected to be able to leave a message with one of the nursing home staff but it just rang out. He replaced the receiver, he would try again later that evening from home.
Replacing the receiver, he was suddenly struck by how silent the house was. It almost felt like it was watching him. Shaking his head at his own idiocy, he headed to Daniel’s bedroom, just for a fanciful moment, but it was covered in dust sheets and impersonal, so he headed to the library, shivering slightly, as it was cold.
The newspapers lay where he had left them, spread across the desk, so he put them back into the box and put the box back. A wave of sadness for Daniel hit him suddenly, the miserable existence of a child of a violent drunk and then his mother murdered. In that moment he made up his mind, if Daniel still wanted him then he would be his, and he would deal with the problem of telling his family about himself.
He hitched a lift on the Candlebury Road from no less a person than the vicar, who congratulated him warmly on the GC, and was back at Quadrant a good fifteen minutes before tea.
David and Jem saw him first, Jem pleased about the honour and his heroism, and David exasperated as he was cold and damp still from the sea.
“I told you not to overdo it - go and take a warm shower and get changed.”
“I will. Where’s Aunt Madge?”
“Shower first. I'll send her up after you've dressed.” David bossed him unmercifully, making his father laugh. Jem seemed to be in a very good mood, John noted, as he laughingly went upstairs to obey orders.
He felt much better after a hot shower and warm dry clothes. Lady Russell did come up to see him.
After dinner, he sat with his sister-in-law whilst Rix did the farm rounds.
He found her cheerful, back to her usual self, and kind. She’d been strained last summer but the trip to Australia seemed to have done her good. She teased him gently about the George Cross, and confided that she was worried about Thomas’s sleepwalking. After more hesitation, he got out of her that she was most worried about Rix giving up medicine to manage the Quadrant.
“I understand,” he said, looking around quickly to see if his father was in earshot. “I had a talk with Dad about it. Dad’s going to get a manager and some more help. I don't know if Rix can go back to surgery…”
“He's just about within the time limits. I'm hoping if we go back to Howells, David will give him a job in the San. He didn't like being a GP, John. I was selfish to ask him to do that.”
“Of course you weren't,” John said, although he remembered the tension that had been between them last year.
“If we do stay here, and I do love the Quadrant, then there's Bideford Hospital, oh hello darling, we were just talking about…”
“I applied this morning,” Rix said, sitting down with them. “David doesn't need another surgeon.” He looked at John. “Dad told me about the money.”
“I don't need it,” John said, at once.
“I'm sure you do. You don't have a job.”
“I'm sorry if you think I'm interfering, but…”
“Not here.” Rix glanced over at his mother, who was looking over at them.
“What money?” Mary-Lou was mystified.
“Come on, we can go into the garden,” John wanted to have it out. Rix, despite his annoyance, saw the sense in this so the three of them headed for the lovely quad garden at the very centre of the house and sat down at the stone bench that was installed. Mary-Lou slipped her hand into her husband’s; hoping to calm him down.
“The Quadrant is my problem,” Rix began. “It's good of you to give us money, but you can't afford it and I can't accept it. I've got to do it myself.”
“You don't.” John’s natural authority came to the fore. “It may belong to you one day, but at the moment it's Dad’s and I gave the money to Dad. I gave my dividend to Dad,” he explained to Mary-Lou, “I wanted to do it. I'm not hard up, Rix. I've spent hardly anything for years. Why can't you just accept help for once? You've helped me all year.”
“You can't do it all yourself,” Mary-Lou knew what strain he had been under and put her arm around Rix. He was silent for a moment or two, then sighed.
“I know. Thank you. It's very generous of you.”
“I get an annuity with the George Cross,” John told them something he hadn't realised until receiving his official paperwork. “£800 a year. So I'm fine, honestly. I don't need much, there's just me.”
“But when you have a family of your own…” Mary-Lou began.
“You can tell her, Rix,” John said, as their eyes met. “It's fine. I'd better go back inside.”
“Tell me what?” Mary-Lou asked, but he left Rix to talk to her and headed back inside.
“There you are darling! You look cold, come and sit by the fire.” Mollie reached out to him and he joined her and Madge and his father, leaving David and Jem to talk San business at the other end of the drawing room.
The next morning they all set off for Armifordshire.
David’s house was half-way between Howells and Armiford; with the Rayners still living there it was very full. The Russells were staying there and all the Bettanys at Carn Beg, and John was just waiting to hear the arrangements for the annual general meeting the next day before taking a bus to Armiford for some last-minute shopping. Con and her small son were pleased to see them, the babies too young yet to care. Con’s husband was working late at the San.
“Are you happy here?” John asked, nursing one of the tiny girls, as David made them tea. The little red sports car had obviously made it to Armiford first as David had put his foot down.
“Yes, on the whole.” If Con thought it was a strange question, she gave no sign of it. “It's quiet, but I've made some friends and I often go into Armiford with the children. I get time to write, I see Frank in the evenings and weekends and we often go walking or away for the weekend.”
“I thought doctors worked long hours…” John was cautious; Con had always struck him as sheltered, and he didn't want her to know why he was asking about doctors’ hours.
“Oh he does, but this is better than London. He's made his name in surgery, if that makes sense, now he can just enjoy his work and spend time with us. Barring emergency cases, of course. That's where he is now; one of his patients had a haemorrhage.”
“He did my surgery,” John said.
“I know,” Con took her tea from David, smiling her thanks. “He didn't tell me much, of course, but said he was pleased with how it went. You look really well.”
“Thanks. It was an awful time for me, but they were kind at the San. I'm going to say that to Uncle Jem tomorrow.”
“You can write a testimonial for our brochures,” David demanded, sitting down, “We can use a photo of you with the Queen, just your latest one.”
“Oh stop it, Davy.” John was shy of his naval honours. His DSO seemed a long time ago now and he could barely remember the presentation. Lewis had also been awarded the same; they had been more foolhardy than brave and lucky not to have escaped being killed. John shared the story of how their then Lieutenant-Commander had yelled at them both for rescuing him under gunfire once they had reached safety and although David laughed, Con looked horrified.
“I'm glad you're retired now,” she said, at once. “I hope Mike won't be sent somewhere dangerous.”
“Mike can look after himself,” John was thoughtful. “Have you heard from him?”
“He's still at Freudesheim. You'll probably see him. He's not going back until the end of June, Mother said in her last letter. They gave him six months off as survivor’s leave because - oh well, you'll find out anyway - he hasn't been coping too well.”
“I didn't know.” John regretted both his flippant comment and the fact he hadn't asked after Mike during the last five months. He knew full well how hard it was to not ‘cope’ in the Royal Navy. He had written a letter via the BFPO but hadn't had a reply, assuming that Mike had gone back to active service and was fine, he hadn't really bothered.
“Post-trauma. It's like shell shock.” David said, knowledgeably.
“Was it traumatic? I didn't think he was on board when the ship went down? He was fine when he first got home, then after a couple of weeks Mother said he got very angry about something.”
“It must have been pretty grim dismantling all those depth charges with the water rising.” John shivered and his cousins were quick to change the subject.
“Didn't you want to buy shirts?” David said. “I'll drop you in Armiford. Actually, I can come with you. Mum and Dad won't be here for an hour. Want to squash in, Con?”
“How exactly?” Con laughed. “Should I put the children in the boot? No, you go and I'll wait for the others to arrive. Besides, Frank should be home in ten minutes or so.”
It was market day in Armiford and very busy. John went to the largest department store and bought what he needed as quickly as he could. A few people stared at him, recognising him from the newspapers, but nobody said anything. It was as he was leaving the tills that he caught the eye of a blonde woman, whom immediately came over to him.
“John - John Bettany,” she hesitantly reached out to touch his arm.
“Yvonne,” he stammered a little. “How are you?”
She looked like she was going to burst into tears and the shoppers nearby were over-interested. Luckily they were near the lifts and he steered her in to one that was mercifully empty and pressed for the top floor.
“I didn't expect to see you here. I came in to do some shopping. I was going to write but I didn't know your address.” Yvonne Keeler wiped her eyes with her handkerchief.
“I'm so sorry Yvonne. I-I was with him until the end. He spoke of you.”
“I know you were. Captain Walsh came to see me. Can we talk?”
“Of course.” The lift doors opened and she followed him out.
There was a café on the top floor; John remembered. He suggested that and she nodded, regaining her composure. When the waitress had brought them tea, she asked how he was.
“I'm fine, getting better.” John looked at her face, she showed no sign of crying again. They had only met previously a few times, but neither had liked the other; John knew it was due to mutual jealousy although as far as he knew, Keeler had kept their relationship secret. If Yvonne had known they they would both have been court-martialled. Still, they had both wanted Lewis’s time and attention, and that had left its mark.
“Did he tell you we were divorcing?”
“Yes - sort of - we didn't see each other much. In fact, I only saw him three times or so before - before…”
“He had another woman, I found a page of a letter he'd written. I knew what he was like, but this read like it had been going on for years. Do you know who she is?”
“I didn't know.” John said, after a pause. “I never saw him with a woman. He didn't even - I mean, obviously some of the men…”
“I'm not naïve. I know full well what goes on, though presumably a Commander isn't still organising trips to brothels.” She gave a bitter little laugh.
“Hardly. He told me in Portsmouth that you'd served papers. I was surprised. He never told me he had any other girlfriend.”
“Well he did. He mentions meeting her in a London hotel, what hey did and how only she understands him, how much he loves her. We never stayed in that hotel and he would never have said that only I understood him - I understood nothing about him. Now he's dead and I have to play the grieving widow because he's a hero. He tortured me!”
“I know.” John said, quietly. “I know what he was like.”
“He didn't sign the divorce papers. I know he saw a solicitor but it seems he wanted to make me wait. Now I'm inheriting his money. I had a copy of his will yesterday, he wrote it just after we were married. There's also something for Lorna and Julia.” She named Lewis’s two young nieces. “And you, he left you his private papers and £1,000. The papers are in the bank.”
John closed his eyes. He had wondered if there had been any evidence left, Lewis’s diaries or his own old letters. Lewis had actually done something sensible for once.
“I don't want the money.” He said.
“That's how I felt.” Yvonne looked at him. “You won't understand this, but I hated him and I still loved him at the same time.”
John bit his lip. “Will there be a memorial service?”
“It was in March, we kept it private.”
“I was in hospital.”
“I know. Look, give me an address and I'll arrange for the solicitor to contact you.”
John wrote down the address of the Swiss San after some thought. Attending the memorial service would have been final. It still felt like Lewis wasn't dead.
They said their goodbyes very formally in the circumstances, then John paid for the teas neither had touched and left.
The San had a conference room; John opened the window and looked out across the Welsh hills. Jack and Joey had arrived and were talking to Madge and Jem. David and Rix were with Dick and Mollie talking to other shareholders, mainly San doctors John didn't know. He was thinking about meeting Yvonne Keeler the day before, and of course, Lewis.
It was hard, seeing Lewis again, even if only from a distance. They were serving on the same ship again. After Suez, their paths had parted, apart from the occasional letter, until about two weeks earlier, when he had arrived with some other officers to join up with the newly-established Far East Fleet, although John had already spent six months out there, long days and nights of heat and boredom.
Both were now Lieutenants. They’d been avoiding each other on board. John opened his ears to news. Only yesterday Keeler had been reprimanded by his commanding officer for something; John had heard someone talking in the mess about it.
He wanted to talk to him again, obviously, but it was difficult; John often thought of some of the things they had done together with shame; he still wasn't reconciled to what he was. It had made him reserved, and as a consequence, lonely.
He sat in the officers’ mess for lunch alone. He had been up half the night, it seemed too much effort to make conversation with anyone.
"John, I was hoping to run into you.” Lewis Keeler put his tray down with a loud clatter that made John start. He looked well-rested and handsome, on his left hand was a clean bandage. John ran his hand over his own unshaven face, but his heart lifted a bit.
“How are you doing?” He asked, inadequately.
"I've just been speaking to Franklyn," Keeler named the Lieutenant-Commander who was his CO. He pulled a face.
“Tell you later.” Keeler said, his mouth full of food. “In private.”
He winked. John felt himself redden and looked away, although the chance for privacy on the HMS Victorious was limited.
“Relax, nobody’s listening.” Keeler stretched his legs out so that his foot nudged John’s ankle. “What are you doing this afternoon?”
“I’m off-duty until tonight. What about you?”
“I’m free till 18:00 but you can barely keep your eyes open. Go and get some kip.”
“No - I’ll sleep later. Come up on deck.” John bit his lip. “Please.”
For a long moment, Keeler said nothing, just looked at him. Eventually, he nodded.
“If you’re on the Watch, does that mean you’ve got your own cabin?” Keeler asked, as they smoked together on the deck.
“I'm sharing with Brody.”
Keeler rolled his eyes.
“He's all right,” John shrugged. “So what did you do to your hand?”
“Trapped it in the bloody winch when we were doing lifeboat drill. Franklyn was on my back about it, he bawled me out for not paying attention. I'm sure you heard about it. He pulled me over before lunch to have another jaw at me.” Lewis called his CO a very unparliamentary word.
“He's pretty tough, Lewis. You should be careful, we’re not kids anymore.”
“I know,” Lewis heaved a huge sigh. “That was a simpler time, wasn't it?”
“I need to get some sleep,” John threw his cigarette end into the ocean.
“I'll see you to your cabin.”
John nodded. He couldn't help himself. Neither did he do anything to stop Lewis Keeler from pushing him quite violently against the metal of the corridor wall outside his quarters,and kissing him, until the very risky nature of the situation hit him. Anyone could walk past and see them. It was utter madness. He pulled away.
“You must be crazy.” John said.
“I have to tell you something.” Keeler made a huge effort to control himself. “It's important.”
“In here,” John opened the door of his cabin and was dismayed to find Lieutenant Brody in situ, reading on his bunk. He stared at Keeler.
“Come to read Bettany a goodnight story?” He jeered at once, sitting up.
“Very funny,” John was curt. He walked over to his locker, opened it, and took out a packet of cigarettes. A wave of exhaustion hit him; mostly reaction. Lewis had just had his hands on him; it was pure luck they hadn't come through the door like that.
Luckily Keeler took both the cue and the cigarettes. “Jealous, Brody? I've only come to collect the cigs young Bettany here owes me.”
Brody smirked. “You look terrible,” he said to John.
“Thank you,” John said, drily. He looked into the mirror above their tiny shared basin, wondering if he had the energy to shave, and when he turned round, Keeler had gone.
It was surprisingly easy to avoid Keeler for the next couple of days. John could focus on the work while he was on active duty but it was when he was at rest that his anxiety over the encounter grew. Keeler was reckless and he himself lost his self-control around him. He both dreaded and looked forward to their next encounter.
When they had been younger they had taken mad risks to be together and committed illegal acts. If John were honest, he knew that one of the things Lewis enjoyed most was the secrecy. It excited him. They couldn't take the same risks today, both lieutenants, the stakes were higher.
Saturday Mess dinner with the captain in attendance; John knew he couldn't avoid that. In a way it was good; Brody had been dropping hints about him being a hermit all week and he was tired of his own company. Besides, he did want to see Lewis.
Lewis sat opposite him; but kept the conversation going with the others. John, despite his natural reservations, relaxed a little. He glanced at the bandage on Keeler’s left hand, by now grubby.
“How's the hand?” he asked, as their glasses were refilled for toasts. The food had been fairly decent and he chided himself for building the situation up into something it wasn't. He could handle Lewis. They'd been close; they could be close again. He felt happy for the first time in ages.
“It's fine, I'm just keeping it on as long as possible for an easy life,” Keeler winked.
“Shame you didn't get sick leave,” a neighbour joked. “More time as a newlywed.”
“I said I wanted an easy life,” Keeler said, after an infinitesimal pause that only John noticed.
As the others laughed, he felt as if he'd been punched in the stomach. Keeler unwound the bandage and John saw the gold wedding band on his finger; he fought for every piece of composure he could pull together. The loyal toast was proposed and he joined in robotically. The Captain began a speech and he heard not a word. Lewis was looking at him. Their eyes met and locked.
"...And now I hope I can prevail upon our youngest officer present,” the Captain’s voice eventually registered, as everyone looked at him and Lieutenant Marshall elbowed him in the side. He nodded and lifted his glass, wanting to throw it on the floor.
“Our wives and sweethearts,” he said, his voice only shaking a little, and they all toasted and drank. Lewis leaned over and touched his glass to John’s.
“May they never meet,” he said, then drank the contents down in one.
"John? We're starting.” Rix said, breaking into his thoughts. “You were miles away!”
“Sorry.” John sat down, in between Rix and his Aunt Jo, who smiled and patted his arm. Their earlier reunion had been emotional and she had thanked him for saving Mike’s life. Jack was sitting elsewhere, as he, David and Jem would be speaking during the meeting.
When David presented the accounts, John stood up and proposed a vote of thanks for all David’s hard work. David seemed surprised yet pleased and John thought Jem looked quite proud. The only bone of contention was the move away from TB cases but that argument was a long-standing one in the family. As he took his seat again John noticed Lida Olsen sitting near to the back of the room.
He remembered talking to her on the road to Haylings and could barely remember their conversation. He knew from Daniel that her little daughter had been ill and had survived by a miracle.
Jack wrapped up with a report about the Swiss San. John scrawled a few notes on his copy of the report and thought how strange it would be to have a civilian job. David called for questions.
“I don't have a question, but I'd like to address the meeting as the mother of a patient,” Lida’s voice sounded emotional. John saw Rix glance round uneasily.
“Of course,” David said.
“I just want to express my deepest gratitude to Dr Russell in particular, as well as all the excellent doctors who could not have done more to save my daughter's life,” she said. “I know that Dr Russell stayed with her for many nights and every doctor involved in her care did their utmost. I know there was a vote of thanks for his hard work, but I think Dr Russell should be commended for all he has done for my girl.”
“Seconded,” Francis Rayner said at once, from near the door. He had slipped in after the first half of his surgical split shift for the last part of the meeting.
“Thank you,” David said, quietly. He seemed slightly overcome with the praise.
There were a few more questions before the meeting ended, but it didn’t take long and as they all broke for tea to be served by some of the San’s catering staff, John saw David go over to Lida Olsen. He himself joined Rayner, who was leafing through the financial statements.
“How are you?” Rayner asked. “You look very well.”
“Much better, thanks. You said before my operation - if I ever needed to talk…”
“Of course. If you want to talk now, we can go to my office.”
Perhaps it was their medical training, John reflected, as he followed the older man to his office, but every single doctor in his family immediately recognised when he was anxious and overwrought without him having to explain it.
Yvonne Keeler had made some unhappy memories resurface and as he had already spoken about Keeler’s gun, albeit when he was in pain and on heavy drugs, he felt he should really finish the story. Besides, not only was the doctor older, he also seemed more worldly than Rix and David as a confidant.
With that in mind, he sat in his office and told him everything. What he was, how it had began, what had happened when he met Lewis Keeler as a seventeen-year-old, how their dysfunctional and complicated relationship had consumed much of his adult life. What had happened in the Wardroom of the Camaraderie on that fateful night and finally, what had happened on the Bridge. How he had met Yvonne in Armiford and how it had nearly all been discovered.
Rayner listened; he realised that this was an important breakthrough.
John moved on to talk about how frightened he was of his family finding out and finally, hesitantly, about Daniel Lyndhurst and how he felt he had lost him after Daniel had written so honestly and he had only written back that he needed more time to think in return.
It was a flood and when John finished, he felt drained but as though a heavy weight had been finally lifted.
There were only two times that a reaction had crossed the surgeon’s face and those were when John had explained how he had had his first full sexual encounter so young and when he had mentioned Daniel Lyndhurst. He didn't seem shocked in any way and there was none of the disgust Rix had clearly initially felt.
“My dear fellow, you're forgetting that Lyndhurst is a psychiatrist,” he said, offering John a cigarette. “He understands. It doesn't matter what you wrote or how you expressed yourself. He will give you as much time as you need to make your decisions. If I'd realised, I would have given you some privacy in that naval hospital to talk between yourselves.”
“I don't want another person to be unhappy because of me.”
“From what you've told me, you had no bearing on your partners’ happiness or otherwise whatsoever. I'm no psychologist but I rather think both those men had trouble reconciling what they were. I served in the Navy during the War, not for long, but I remember the pressures. I can see how it could be hard for someone who was in denial about their - proclivities. I’m not going to patronise you by saying you didn’t know what you were doing, but both of these men were older than you. One could think they took advantage of you. I can see Lyndhurst - Daniel - not wanting to do the same until you are completely sure in your own mind.”
“I was - no, he was married. I should have stopped it then but we didn't. We went from Singapore to a war and it was - well, it was hard. But he was married.” John told the surgeon about the guilt he himself felt about not letting Keeler make his marriage work. How, essentially, he felt he wasn't good enough for a new relationship.
“You weren't the one who was married,” Rayner said. “I think you should stop shouldering all the blame.” He leaned back in his chair and for a second John thought he was going to say something, but was in two minds.
“My first marriage was unhappy,” he said, after a pause. “I can see how things develop that way. Oh I wasn't unfaithful but unhappy people seek happiness elsewhere. I'll tell you the whole story sometime.”
“If she ever knew - I couldn't tell her, it would be cruel. Also she could go to the police and that would affect Daniel too…”
“My dear fellow, it’s no longer illegal.”
“Well..” John realised with a shock that he was still thinking of himself as a naval officer. He’d read and re-read the newspapers last year, but of course the new laws hadn’t really applied to himself. The Royal Navy had actually cracked down hard on deviant behaviour, as Commander Lawton had called it, in a communiqué sent to his ship.
“You needn’t put an advertisement in the press, but your family…”
“Rix and David know, and now Mary-Lou, I think. You know, I don’t think my parents would mind too much, but my uncles and aunts - I don’t know. I wanted to tell Con, yesterday, but something stopped me.”
“Con would entirely understand.” Rayner’s eyes flickered to the photograph of her on his desk. “I can tell her if you would like me to. She’d be supportive.”
“OK.” John nodded. It did make it easier.
“Please don’t tell anyone else - yet. I need to think things through in Switzerland. Thank you for not being shocked.”
Rayner laughed. “I don’t shock easily.”
“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell her about Daniel’s parents. I shouldn’t have told you.”
“I already knew. I admitted him as a medical student - I used to teach, years ago. I had a report from his headmaster and it was included. You’re not betraying any confidences.” He turned round as there was a quick knock on the door and David appeared with a bottle of whisky. “I even taught your cousin here.”
“You were terrifying,” David said, laughing. “I’m not interrupting anything am I?”
“No, of course not.” John said. “Well done on the meeting.”
“Thanks, I’m relieved it’s over. Are you still operating this afternoon?” he asked Rayner.
“Yes - I’ll go and collect Richard in five minutes. That reminds me…” Rayner pulled out his diary - “Yes, it’s fine. I’ll start and then tell him to take over. That should see him fine until - let’s see, I’ve got enough on in July, if you can get him back then…”
John looked at them and realised what they were talking about. “You’re helping him keep up to date with his surgery,” he said, surprised.
“Of course we are. We’ve been doing it for years!” David grinned. “Don’t tell him though, you know what he’s like.”
“Is that why you gave him a job at the San? I wondered why that was.”
“It was a stupid decision to go into general practice,” David poured John a glass of whisky and one for himself, then closed the door. “I really don’t know why he did that. However, I forced him into one day a week. Then he decided to go and farm, which was even more ridiculous. Luckily Frank can always get him to observe and then take over without him even realising what’s going on…”
“He’s applied for a job at Bideford Hospital,” John told them. “He wants to go back.”
“Excellent.” Rayner stood up. He briefly patted John’s shoulder. “Good to talk to you,” he said, then left the two cousins together.
“I told Dad we’re going to the Oberland, Uncle Jack too. They couldn’t object really; I’ve done good work with the San and you’re a national hero.” David chuckled. “Reg Entwistle isn’t here otherwise I’d introduce you.”
“I’m sure he’s not plotting to oust you,” John said, refusing to rise to the hero comment.
“We’ll see.” David laughed and finished his drink.
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